GI Joe fans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the world's first action figure's debut this month. Over those five decades, the GI Joe brand (sold as Action Man in the UK) has seen wild swings in its popularity—a barometer of the public's regard for the military—and undergone numerous design evolutions.
Conceived by Don Levine, Hasbro's head of research and development and US Army Infantry Sergeant, as he rotated home from deployment in the Korean War, GI Joe's were originally foot tall posables. "We protected each other and loved each other," Levine told the AP this week. "Something had to be done to honour these people."
Levine sold Hasbro on the idea and in February of 1964, the company debuted the "movable fighting man" outfitted in the uniforms of the four US military branches at the annual toy fair in New York City. GI Joe hit store shelves that Christmas, retailing for $4/£2.45 a pop, and were an immediate hit -- Action Man followed in UK stores two years later.
Unfortunately that initial surge of excitement was effectively squashed as the US entered the Vietnam War and the popularity of the US armed forces quickly declined. Sales got so bad that the GI Joe line was axed completely in the 1970's. It wasn't until 1982 that Hasbro resurrected the brand in the modern 3.5 inch variety and incorporated vehicles, accessories, and playsets—you know, "merchandising"—into the toy line, proving a massive hit overseas too.
GI Joe's popularity skyrocketed throughout the 1980's, was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2004, and remains a popular brand to this day with a third installment of the movie series currently in production. And the Cobra Commander is still at large. [CBS - ABC - Stars and Stripes]