GI Joe, the world's first action figure, turns 50

  • Follow News

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — G.I. Joe is turning 50.

Tearle Ashby, 50, owns about 2,000 G.I. Joe figures. For its 50th birthday, the iconic action figure is being honored in a display at the New York State Military Museum. The toymaker plans other events to be announced this month.   MIKE GROLL/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIKE GROLL/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tearle Ashby, 50, owns about 2,000 G.I. Joe figures. For its 50th birthday, the iconic action figure is being honored in a display at the New York State Military Museum. The toymaker plans other events to be announced this month.

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.

Since Hasbro brought it to the world’s attention at the annual toy fair in New York City in early 1964, G.I. Joe has undergone many changes, some the result of shifts in public sentiment for military-themed toys, others dictated by the marketplace.

Still, whether it’s the original “movable fighting man” decked out in the uniforms of the four branches of the U.S. military or today’s scaled-down products, G.I. Joe remains a popular brand.

“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 CEO for Pawtucket, R.I.-based Hasbro Inc., whose father, Merrill, oversaw G.I. Joe’s development in 1963.

But it’s Don Levine, then the company’s head of research and development, who is often referred to as the “father” of G.I. Joe for shepherding the toy through design and development. Levine and his team came up with an 11½-inch articulated figure with 21 moving parts, and because the company’s employees included many 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 said he and his team knew the product wasn’t in Hasbro’s usual mold, and it took years of pitches before Merrill Hassenfeld gave it the company’s full backing.

“Most boys in the ’60s had a father or a relative who was or had been in the military,” said Patricia Hogan, the curator at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, home to the National Toy Hall of Fame.

G.I. Joe hit the shelves in time for the 1964 Christmas shopping season and became a big seller at $4 apiece.

It remained popular until the late 1960s, as opposition to the Vietnam War intensified and parents shied away from military-related toys. In 1970, Hasbro introduced “Adventure Team” G.I. Joes that played down the military connection. Into the ’70s, G.I. Joes featured “lifelike hair” and “kung-fu grip.”

Hasbro discontinued production later that decade. In the early 1980s, Hasbro shrank Joe to 3¾ inches, the same size as figures made popular by Star Wars. It has since stuck to that size.

Over the decades, G.I. Joe has spawned comic books, cartoons, movies and a G.I. Joe Collector’s Club and its annual convention – GIJoeCon. But for many fans, the newer products hold no appeal.

“The 12-inch G.I. Joe built that company,” said Tearle Ashby, of Ballston Spa, N.Y. “The stuff they put out now is garbage.”

Hasbro said it intends to announce details of its 50th anniversary plans at this year’s American International Toy Fair in New York on Feb. 16-19.


Search Augusta jobs