Sometimes called the world's first action figure, the perennially popular G.I. Joe line of toys and models celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Introduced back in the early months of 1964 by the now world-famous toy maker Hasbro, G.I. Joe has seen its popularity among children and collectors alike wax and wane as the military-themed action figures grew alongside the U.S.'s various military engagements. With 50 years of history under Joe's well-worn ammunition belt, though, it is safe to say that he will be around for many years to come.
Creating a hero
Don Levine was the head of Hasbro's research and development team throughout the 1960s, and, alongside then-CEO Merrill Hassenfeld, developed the iconic 11.5-inch action figure with 21 movable points, The Associated Press reported. This design allowed for a much wider variety of poses and positions which, considering the active soldier design choice, proved pivotal to its success in the open market.
"Joe stood for everything that was meant to be good: fighting evil, doing what's right for people," Hassenfeld's son, Alan, told the AP.
The military aspect of the figurines – now an indelible part of the G.I. Joe character – may have come about by accident. Created in 1963, Hasbro happened to employ many veterans of World War II and the Korean War, so the decision was made to clothe the models in miniature Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine uniforms with arms and equipment coming later.
Joe was on shelves in time for Christmas 1964. The 11.5 inch figures retailed for only $4.
The times, they are a-changing
The G.I. Joe brand grew well into the '60s, but the advent of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam hurt the public appeal of the toy line. In response, Hasbro executives shrank the figures, to 3.75-inches and diversified Joe's missions; instead of a soldier, he became an adventurer, an explorer and a deep sea diver. This rebranding also gave rise to G.I. Joe's famous "kung fu grip" feature and tagline.
While Joe aficionados are split over the true value of the vintage 11.5-inch figure and the redesigned 3.75-version, there is no denying that the iconic toy continues to represent something special. G.I. Joe was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2004 and the fan community is so robust that an annual convention is held – G.I. Joe Con – where collectors can purchase rare figures, meet creators of the brand and dress up as their favorite Joe soldiers.
If Joe can persevere through multiple wars and a variety of strong and weak economies, it is safe to assume that he'll be celebrating a 100 year anniversary in due time.