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The GI Joe Figures Evolution


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The GI Joe figures were the idea of toy creator and licensing agent Stan Weston, who first came up with the plan of a toy soldier/action figure based on the hit TV series "The Lieutenant" in 1963.

He then brought it up to Don Levine the CEO of toy manufacturer Hasbro Co. At that time, only Mattel's Barbie doll was dominating the market and it was targeted only for girls.

Since there were no particular dolls made for boys, Levine and Hasbro saw the potential in the idea of a doll for boys and if there ever was a time to offer a new brand of toy line, it was the perfect opportunity to do so.


The development of the G.I. Joe line of plastic figurines also led to the coining of the popular and now common term "action figure" to make it more appealing to their intended market- the young boys who didn't like to play with Barbie dolls.

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Thus in 1964, Hasbro launched the GI Joe Figures line of military-themed, 12" articulated action figures which featured changeable clothes with various uniforms to suit different purposes.

Since then Hasbro has had to rebuild and remodel the GI Joe figures to go fit in with the ever changing world and market.

The initial GI Joe Figures represented the four branches of the United States Armed Forces: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Pilot and Action Marine. With this, the G.I. Joe name no longer referred to a specific character but to a brand of toy lines instead.

The toy's features made it more appealing because the soldier could be bent into various poses and it also came equipped with different accessories and outfits which were based on real-life military equipment.

Its popularity rose overnight in the U.S. much to the chagrin of their rival Mattel which only had Ken to counter with.

In order to create global popularity for the GI Joe Figures , Hasbro licensed the product line to other marketing companies and it was met with wild success.

In the years that followed, additional characters were added to the product line to satisfy the customers' interest. Timing was indeed everything.

But in 1983, a federal regulation which prohibited the creation of children's programming based on toys was lifted and this incidence opened up a new era in the action figures competition.

Already facing stiff rivalry with the Kenner Company which got the license to manufacture the Star Wars action figures, Hasbro fell into the backseat of the action figure market.

The original 12 inch version of the GI Joe Figures was slowly declining in demand and started to gather dust on the shelf; kids wanted something else much cooler than this. Hasbro had to act fast and smart to retain the customer base it enjoyed.

After searching for possible solutions, it dawned on them that the large sized GI Joe Figures were not fashionable anymore. Smaller action figures, like the 9cm action figures from Star Wars, were more popular among young boys.

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As a result Hasbro went back to the production process and in 1982 came up with their own 9cm GI Joe Figures toyline collection and the GI Joe 'A Real American Hero' was born.

Hasbro made major modifications to this version of the GI Joe figures. They had a swivel arm articulation technique that allowed them to rotate above the elbow as opposed to the older version that could only bend around the elbow. The former swivel neck was replaced by ball joints that enabled the figure to pose in many different ways.

Hasbro then went a step further and created biographies for each of the GI Joe Figures , called a file cards, to give them added "reality" and authenticity. The file cards were developed by Larry Hama, a former army officer turned comic writer, who used most of his military expertise to write appealing biograhies for them.

The GI Joe action figure accessories also received a major upgrade. The technology used to design the vehicles and playsets was adopted from the weapon technology used by the US military in the 1980's.

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War aircrafts like the Sky Striker were developed using the idea of the US military F-14 Tomcat; the GI Joe Cobra Rattler resembled the A-10 thunderbolt 2; the Dragon Fly mimicked the AH-1 Cobra helicopter and the last interesting addition was the Night raven that had a close look to the Lockheed A-12.

GI Joe Figures army equipment was also developed like the MOBAT tank that resembled the US military M551 Sheridan and the MOBIL Missile System that could easily be matched to the HAWK air-to-surface missile system of the US army.

In 1982 13 GI Joe Figures were produced in total. The first eleven came in carded parks while the rest came in bundled vehicles. This first batch had straight arms and could only be bent at the elbows but Hasbro later made an improvement on this.

From 1983 to 1985, new characters were added to the line and the arms were modified using the swivel arm articulation enabling them to rotate above the elbows of the action figures. The ball joint articulation was employed on the head joint allowing for an up and down head movement and moreover this was when most of the GI Joe characters were developed together with vehicles and playsets.

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The GI Joe Figures packaging was improved in 1986. The previous 'explosion only' background on the toy packs was discarded and in its place came the pixilated red, yellow and white explosion pattern that made the packaging even more attractive and appealing to it's young audience.

In 1987, the GI Joe Defiant space shuttle and the Mobile Command Center were released, these were the largest known playsets in the GI Joe toyline history ever to be made, and towards the end of the year kids were treated to a Christmas gift of the Battle 2000 playset.

More improvements were made in 1988 on both the Joe and Cobra camps. The Cobra line increased with the Viper-type troops being recruited and the Joes got their own sub group called The Tiger Force which composed of invincible characters and vehicles that came with tiger-striped patterns on them as camouflage. An additional enemy line, the Iron Grenadiers was also added.

Following the success of the Tiger Force Hasbro decided to welcome 1989 with an additional helping force for both camps; the Joes received another sub group called the Slaughter's Marauders and the Cobra's the Python Patrol. However, the popularity of these new forces was low among fans so Hasbro had some resizing to do.

As a result in 1990, Hasbro decided to reduce the number of vehicles and concentrated on improving the action figures in a bid to gain a larger share of the market, the logo also received some slight modifications.

In 1991 and 1992 Hasbro continued to focus on the action figures and came up with special teams like the Eco-Warriors, Star Brigade and the Ninja Force.

After this the characters that didn't fall under any subgroup were incorporated into the Battle Corp. The file cards received a second remodeling and sported a new laser-like line design on the background and new characters from the Street Fighter 2 video game were included to increase the toyline's popularity.

Toys R Us took up the exclusive toyline from Hasbro from 1997 and came up with new ideas for the toys, like grouping the figures in 3 figure team packs; Commando, Mission and the Cobra Command packs.

Additional playsets were also introduced such as the Cobra flight and the Silver Mirage motorcycle and the toy packaging was different with stars and stripes on it. Toys R Us also included a new and rare character called the Pimp Daddy Destro.

GI Joe toy lovers didn't give the expected response to the PDD, as he was popularly referred to, so it was replaced by the regular version of the Cobra command Team Pack in 1998.

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From 2002 to 2007 no major improvements were made and the toyline languished and its availability got reduced to an online only retail service.

In 2006 the GI Joe franchise was changed from the "A Real American Hero" concept to 'GI Joe The Rise of Cobra' after the movies that were being released.

Then in 2009 Hasbro came back on the scene and announced the 25th anniversary Edition figures for the toyline. The figures were from the previous A Real American Hero concept with only a few sculpting updates on them.

These new figures coincided with the release of the Rise of Cobra movie and have been a huge success with both fans and collectors.

The GI Joe toyline franchise has produced over 500 action figures together with 250 vehicles and play set accessories and looks like continuing for many more years, much to the joy of many fans and collectors!




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