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Action Man, the unsung toy hero

Action Man, the unsung toy hero

As the world's most successful boys' toy, Action Man (originally called GI Joe) had a major impart on the design of 20th Century toys around the world. Since being launched in 1964, hundreds of millions of this now iconic action figure have been manufactured and sold by Rhode Island-based Hasbro.

The original creative director Don Levine was a former army man who decided to create a line of toys for boys modelled after "Government Issued Joes" - or the everyday soldiers that served in the US armed forces.

The thought was that they would appeal to a generation of boys whose fathers, uncles, and neighbours had recently fought in either World War II or the Korean War.

Don Levine believed the concept would only work as long as no-one call them 'dolls'. "The sales force was forbidden to use the term 'doll' - if anyone referred to it as a doll they were fined," says Kirk Bozigian, a former product manager at Hasbro.

Dubbed "men of action" or action figures, Hasbro's then chief executive Merrill Hassenfeld decided GI Joe would be the future of the firm, and planned one of the most ambitious launches in toy history.

"Merrill thought his team was on to a magic formula and he decided he was going to stake the future of the company on this endeavour. If it didn't work it was clear that [the company] would have had a hard time recovering," says Derryl DePriest, the current vice-president of marketing for boys at Hasbro.

The strategy worked.

But it wasn't plain sailing.

A few years after the action figure's initial success, American sentiment towards war become more complicated as the Vietnam War ramped up.

So instead of featuring heroes from the US Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, in 1969 Hasbro launched "Adventures of GI Joe", which later became Adventure Team in 1970 - a series of action figures who, instead of fighting in wars, engaged in adventure-oriented missions like saving white tigers and rhinos. 

These days, Action Man doen't hold an attachment for children as back then, however as long as there are children who want to see their active imaginations come to life, there will always be place in this world for Action Man.

Tags: Action Man, Toys