Of all the ways G.I. Joe has made toy history, one of the most enduring is the introduction of the term “action figure” to the world. Before his 1964 debut, Hasbro was concerned that boys would not want to play with something called a “doll,” so they coined a new term, and it’s stuck ever since. For this reason (and all the others), G.I. Joe is a member of the Pop Culture Hall of Fame for 2017.
The first wave of Joe toys represented the four main branches of the U.S. Military. Originally, they each had distinct names, with only the Army version going by “Joe.” Just before launch, the names were scrapped for more generic labels. The first G.I. Joe figures came from the Army (Action Soldier), Navy (Skip, a.k.a. Action Sailor), Air Force (Ace, a.k.a. Action Pilot) and Marines (Rocky a.k.a. Action Marine) versions. Later, a female soldier, (Action Nurse) was added to the lineup.
One of the unique features of the the early G.I. Joes was the scar on the cheek of each character. This feature was added as a way to differentiate the toys enough so they could be copyrighted.
The large 12-inch version of Joe would fall out of favor in the mid 1970s, but Joe would not be out of service for long. In 1982, Hasbro debuted a new 3.75-inch tall series of figures. Though the new line, debuting in 1982, called Joe “A Real American Hero,” the team’s exploits were centered around fighting a fictional, nationless terrorist group instead of more real-life enemies. Ron Rudat, a 2015 inductee in the Pop Culture Hall of Fame, was tapped to design the figures.
The new line was even more successful than the original, partly because the less expensive, smaller figures allowed kids to buy more than just one or two main figures. The scale of the vehicles made them more attractive for multiple purchases as well.
The revived Joes served until 1994, but G.I. Joe has come back every few years in various sizes and forms ever since. There’s just no getting G.I. Joe to surrender.