GI Joe’s 50th: America’s Movable Fighting Man
2014 is the 50th anniversary of the GI Joe brand. This week we’re taking a look at the line that kicked it off in 1964, America’s Movable Fighting Man!
In 1964 Hasbro (Then known as Hassenfeld Bros.) released GI Joe, America’s Movable Fighting Man. The initial series included four action figures. Hasbro coined the term “Action Figure” because it was thought that boys would not buy any toys called “Dolls” Hasbro went so far as to not allow the term “Doll” to even be used around the office. The four GI Joe Action Figures represented the four branches of the armed forces with the Action Soldier, Action Marine, Action Sailor & Action Pilot.
Since no one can claim a copyright on the human form, Hasbro decided to add a scar to GI Joe’s face so they could claim copyright to that feature. The scar would be a way to tell if you were buying an authentic GI Joe Action Figure. At some point during production, the right hand received an error in the form of the thumbnail being sculpted on the bottom of the thumb instead of the top. Hasbro decided to add that to the copyrighted features and it is a trend that is seen on many of the 12″ figures to this day.
In the five years America’s Movable Fighting Man was sold, the line expanded from the 4 original figures to include an African American Action Soldier, six “Action Soldiers of the World” who used two newly sculpted European & Japanese styled heads and a GI Nurse (dubbed “America’s Movable Action Girl”). In 1967 the four original GI Joes received a pull string feature that allowed them to say up to 8 different phrases. The dog tags were attached to a string that when pulled out to a certain length would say a different phrase.
GI Joe had many different sized accessory sets for each of the four armed services. The examples shown are a sampling of the different sets offered in 1965. This was the main selling force behind GI Joe known as the “razor/razor blade” principle. This was already a proven principle with Barbie dolls, the idea being that once you had a GI Joe Action Figure, you created a market for the accessory sets.
While GI Joe was primarily an Action Figure line, there were a few vehicles offered, the first being the “5 Star Jeep” shown here. The Jeep was later recolored tan as a Desert Patrol Jeep, there were also vehicles like a Crash Crew Truck that actually pumped water, a Sea Sled and GI Joe even rode around in a Mercury Space Capsule.
In 1969 GI Joe moved away from it’s military background due to the public’s unpopular opinion of the Vietnam War. It started out as the Adventures of GI Joe and by 1970, The Adventure Team was born! GI Joe was now known as America’s Movable Adventure Man.
The Adventure Team series introduced new, iconic features like Kung-Fu Grip & Life-Like Hair (Only the Life-Like Hair was introduced in the first year, Kung-Fu Grip came later) Both of these features were originally designed and implemented by Hasbro’s UK Licensee, Palitoy in their version of GI Joe called “Action Man”
The Life-Like Hair and Beard was done using a flocking method of gluing finely cut fibers onto the heads. This process can be traced back around 1000 BC but most of us really remember it either from Adventure Team or Masters of the Universe toys like Panthor and Moss Man.
The Kung-Fu Grip involved using a soft rubber material for the hands, this allowed the hands to be opened to grip items. Hasbro used a simplified version of the Kung-Fu Grip Palitoy originally used.
While Adventure Team consisted of mostly normal Adventurers going to strange locals, in 1975 Hasbro added a new member to the roster: Mike Power, The Atomic Man! This was Hasbro’s answer to the Six Million Dollar Man and made it to store shelves shortly before the Six Million Dollar Man could.
Mike Power featured an Atomic Arm and Leg along with an Atomic Flashing Eye.
The Arm and Leg were made using translucent plastic. The Arm has a dial that makes the hand rotate. This was used to operate Mike Power’s handheld helicopter. The Leg has some added detail in the thigh. You can also see the articulation joints that were colored silver to add to the atomic detail.
The Atomic Flashing Eye was a simple case of light piping (a toy feature we see heavily used in Transformers now days) The piping starts as a small circle on the top of his head and ends as his eye.
I used a laser light to illuminate the Atomic Flashing Eye.
The next year brought us Eagle Eye GI Joe. Now GI Joe had movable eyes that could shift left and right by moving a lever on the back of his head.
Joining the Atomic Man and Eagle Eye Joe in the level of strange, new figures were Bulletman (The Human Bullet) who had chrome plated Arms and Helmet and the Intruders (Strong Men From Another World) small barbarian like figures with lever controlled crusher arms. These were the first foes for GI Joe to fight. Unlike the normal GI Joe body, the Intruders only had 3 points of articulation.
Adventure Team’s popularity eventually fell and the 12″ GI Joe era came to an end in 1977 with the introduction of Super Joe Adventure Team. Super Joe was a smaller figure around the 8″ mark. This move was due to the popularity of Mego’s 8″ figures and increasing prices in petroleum. Super Joe’s big gimmick was a power vest that had a battery powered light in the chest. The vest could also operate Power Packs like a small helicopter back pack or communications scanner that when plugged into the Power Vest would have parts that rotated.
Three of the figures, Gor (King of the Terrons), Luminos & The Shield did not have Power Vests. They each had a light gimmick built into them. There was also an electronic walking creature called Terron (The Beast From Beyond) in the line. The Terron’s big gimmick is that the light from Super Joe’s Power Vest would cause the creature to stop walking (acting as if it was stunned)
Apparently Super Joe sales were low from the start and the very next year, in 1978 Kenner showed up with the 3 3/4″ Star Wars toy line outselling all action figures. GI Joe was then put to rest.
Check out the rest of the GI Joe 50th here: