GI Joe is turning 50.
The birthday of what’s called the world’s first action figure is being celebrated this month by collectors and the toy maker that introduced it just before the US plunged into the quagmire that would become the Vietnam War.
Since Hasbro brought it to the world’s attention at the annual toy fair in New York City in early 1964, GI Joe has had many changes, some the result of shifts in public sentiment for military-themed toys.
“Joe stood for everything that was meant to be good: fighting evil, doing what’s right for people,” said Alan Hassenfeld, the 65-year-old former chief executive for Hasbro, whose father, Merrill, oversaw GI Joe’s development in 1963.
Don Levine, then the company’s head of research and development, is often referred to as the “father” of GI Joe for shepherding the toy through design and development.
Levine and his team came up with a 28-centimetre figure with 21 moving parts, and since the company’s employees included many military veterans, it was decided to outfit the toy in the uniforms of the army, navy, marines and air force, with such accessories as guns, helmets and vehicles.
Levine, who served in the army in Korea, said he had the idea as a way to honour veterans.
GI Joe hit the shelves in time for the 1964 Christmas shopping season and became a big seller.
It remained popular until the late 1960s, as opposition to Vietnam intensified and parents shied away from military-related toys.
Hasbro countered in 1970 by introducing “Adventure Team” GI Joes that played down the military connection.
Hasbro discontinued production later that decade. In the early 1980s, Hasbro shrank Joe to the same size as figures made popular by Star Wars.
Collector Tearle Ashby, a psychotherapist who turns 50 in June and who now owns about 2000 GI Joes, played with the toys as a boy, but few of those survived, falling victim to encounters with firecrackers and little parachutes that failed to open.
“Casualties of war,” Ashby said.