G.I. Joe

G.I. Joe The Real American Hero

G.I. Joe was the first action figure ever produced, and one of the first dolls made to be marketed specifically to boys.  When Barbie dolls were first introduced they immediately became popular, but there was no toy equivalent to the Barbie doll in size and scale for boys.  The idea of a military based doll was introduced by a toy creator who was inspired by the idea of the military to create a doll for boys based on the armed forces.  Citing the 1945 movie The Story of G.I. Joe the toymaker decided to call the doll G.I. Joe, or Government Issue Joe, which was a slang term for Army soldiers.  The original G.I. Joe was based on a WWII infantry soldier but had a uniform and gear that blended the styles of WWII and the Korean War. Originally four different versions of the doll were made, one for each branch of the armed forces.  The dolls, which were called “action figures” to make them more appealing to little boys, came with a uniform and a few pieces of gear but most of the gear was sold separately in action packs. One of the most prominent pieces of G.I. Joe’s gear, his gun, was sold separately which angered many parents.

After the Vietnam War created a highly anti-military sentiment in the general population the marketing team of the G.I. Joe action figures started focusing less on the military aspect of the dolls and focused on rebranding the figures as part of an “Action Team” that was created to fight the evil Cobra Command who were trying to take over the world. After the rebranding the G.I. Joe franchise became more popular with the public. When action cartoons became popular in the 1980s an animated G.I. Joe series was created as a merchandising vehicle for the action figures and the gear sets which became some of the most popular toys of the 1980s. In 1985 the marketing team again rebranded the line going back to the military roots of the figures and portraying the G.I. Joe team members as Special Forces type operatives who were caught up in a classic Good vs. Evil battle to save the world using super secret military training and cutting edge weapons. The size of the figures was reduced from 12 inches to about 3 inches to make them competitive with the popular Star Wars action figures that were selling out of store shelves all around the world.  With the reduced size and then new storyline the G.I. Joe franchise became popular with an entirely new audience.

In the early 1990s interest in G.I. Joe was still strong but waned as the decade progressed. Until the 2009 G.I. Joe live action movie there was relatively little interest in the figures or in the franchise. The live action film renewed interest in the franchise for both older generations who grew up with G.I. Joe and with younger audiences whose first experience with G.I. Joe was the 2009 movie.

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