A Doll For Boys


In an excerpt from his new book The End of Victory Culture, Tom Engelhardt delves into the history of G.I. Joe:

Joe was the brainstorm of a toy developer named Stanley Weston, who was convinced that boys secretly played with Barbie and deserved their own doll. Having loved toy soldiers as a child, he chose a military theme as the most acceptable for a boy’s doll and took his idea to Hassenfeld Brothers (later renamed Hasbro), a toy company then best known for producing Mr. Potato Head. … Merrill Hassenfeld, one of the two brothers running the company, called on an old friend, Major General Leonard Holland, head of the Rhode Island National Guard, who offered access to weaponry, uniforms, and gear in order to design a thoroughly accurate military figure. Joe was also given a special “grip,” an opposable thumb and forefinger, all the better to grasp those realistic machine guns and bazookas, and he was built with 21 movable parts so that boys could finally put war into motion.

Hassenfeld Brothers confounded the givens of the toy business by selling $16.9 million worth of Joes and equipment in Joe’s first year on the market, and after that things only got better. In this way was a warrior Adam created from Eve’s plastic rib, a tough guy with his own outfits and accessories, whom you could dress, undress, and take to bed – or tent down with, anyway.

But none of this could be said. It was taboo at Hasbro to call Joe a doll. Instead, the company dubbed him a “poseable action figure for boys,” and the name “action figure” stuck to every war-fighting toy to follow. So Barbie and Joe, hard breasts and soft bullets, the exaggerated bombshell and the touchy-feely scar-faced warrior, came to represent the shaky gender stories of America at decade’s end, where a secret history of events was slowly sinking to the level of childhood.

Meg Sense captions the above photo:

GI Joe Fuzzy head Land Adventurer w/ Kung Fu Grip.

My ex-step-father used to have this doll (yeah yeah action figure), the original version w/ talking. My brother and I really loved that thing. I found out they re-produced it in 2006 and have been trying to find one for the last year or so, that doesn’t cost me a ton. It’s a repro after all.