The G.I. Joe Museum Features
numerous stories and exhibits about all things related to "G.I. Joe." A few of them include the history behind the "most valuable action figure" at the Geppi Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, the numerous military museums dedicated to our GI's and their battles, and original features on G.I. Joe artwork, paintings, drawings and museum exhibitions. Here are just a few!
The year was 1963. Don Levine, the Vice-President of Research and Development at Hassenfeld Brothers, Inc. (later re-named Hasbro Toys) was creating a new toy that resembled our soliders in uniform. Starting out on a ping-pong table in Levine's home, the "first G.I. Joe" was almost 12" tall, wore a hand-stitched Sergeant's uniform and had a battle weary expression. G.I. Joes were the first moveable action figures. It's been said that G.I. Joe changed the history of toys starting in the 1960s. Then, in the Summer of 2003, the world's first real action figure was put up on the auction block at Heritage Auction Galleries with a minimum starting bid of $650,000 (and later reduced to $250,000). Alas, old Joe received no bids and the auction was closed. Shortly thereafter, however, Joe got a second chance when Steve Geppi, president and CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors, purchased the action figure prototype for $200,000. Now Joe resides in a new home, the Geppi Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, along aside other toys that helped shape the history of our country. According to Geppi, "While G.I. Joe is an integral part of American pop culture, he has always stood for something more. He is a hero who represents all of the American servicemen who made -- and continue to make -- great sacrifices to ensure the triumph of liberty and democracy. I am honored to own this unique part of Americana."
The Geppi's Entertainment Museum is a 16,000-square-foot privately owned pop culture museum located in Baltimore, Maryland. The museum chronicles the history of pop culture in America from 1600's to today as made popular in newspapers, magazines, comic books, movies, television, radio and video games. It features a large and varied collection of pop culture memorabilia, including comic books, movie posters, toys, buttons, badges, cereal boxes, trading cards, dolls, figurines and many other items. The museum is located in downtown Baltimore's historic Camden Station, directly above Sports Legends at Camden Yards and adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards (part of the Camden Yards Sports Complex). Heritage Auction Galleries later also sold several other pieces from the Don Levine collection.
In 1964 amid the Cold War, Hasbro introduced a new type of toy into the world of play. Named G.I. Joe after ordinary soldiers of World War II, the 11 1/2-inch male figure wore uniforms representing the U.S. military and had 21 moving parts. Hasbro branded it an “action figure” to distinguish it from dolls and created a variety of vehicles, equipment, and play sets to accompany it.
Joe established his success in the first year as millions of boys found him a compelling toy for imaginative play. The action figure’s popularity rose steadily until American involvement in Vietnam made war-related toys less appealing. Hasbro responded with a new Joe. The soldier of 1964 became a Land Adventurer in 1970 and took on more peaceful action, recovering lost mummies and rescuing the environment. Within a few years, Joe’s popularity declined. In the mid-1970s, he became an 8-inch “Super” figure, and in 1978, Hasbro retired him from production for a time.
In the early 1980s, Joe returned but reduced again to 3 3/4 inches. This time, a Saturday morning TV show and a long-running comic-book series fueled G.I. Joe’s revival. In the early 1990s, Hasbro restored Joe to his original size and offered collectible Joes for adults. By late 2004, Hasbro had sold more than 400 million G.I. Joe figures in the 40 years since the toy’s debut.
Because of his popularity, G.I. Joe has been both a battle-scarred soldier of America’s culture wars and an influential toy prototype. For some critics, Joe’s message of “might makes right” is the wrong one to share with children. Other adults counter that Joe encourages kids’ stories of good triumphing over evil and fosters creativity, imagination, and self-esteem. But while grown-ups argue over Joe’s merits and flaws, kids play on, and hundreds of other “action figures” people the toy landscape.
G. Rollie Adams, chief executive of the Strong Museum, acknowledged that GI Joe was a somewhat controversial choice, given that some parents and critics have argued that it "fosters violent play, leads to a 'might makes right' perspective and desensitizes us to war." But what was more significant, he said, was "its influence as an innovator. Its creation in 1964 launched an entirely new category of toys ... best known as 'action figures.' "
The Strong Museum was established in 1969 and based initially on the personal collection of Rochester, NY native Margaret Woodbury Strong; the museum opened to the public in 1982. Since then it has refined and increased its collections, which number more than 500,000 items, and expanded twice, in 1997 and 2006. The museum is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, and the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play and produces the American Journal of Play.
In 1997, the Koehnline Museum of Art at the Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois, featured an exhibit that pitted two classic gender icon toys against one another. The culmination of a lengthy project by Chicago artist Patrick Miceli, Miceli enlisted more than 40 artists to personally interpret the images of two American pop culture icons – Barbie and G.I. Joe. For the project, Miceli provided blank outline drawings of each character, measuring eight feet high and 42 inches wide, and asked each artist to respond to either image in their own style. September 6 - October 19, 2007
Barbie, first introduced in 1959, and G. I. Joe, who came to life in 1964, both represent perfect adult characters rendered as children’s toys. As such they represent powerful gender role models for fantasy, imitation, and inspiration. The fact that 80 percent of the female artists in this exhibition selected to work on Barbie, and 70 percent of the male artists chose to interpret G. I. Joe, demonstrates how strongly the gender issue is rooted in these figures. Gender issues are explored by 40 percent of the artists represented in this exhibition, while 45 percent chose to reflect social and political concerns. The remaining artists selected diverse topics, including ethnic identity and mythological symbolism.
According to Otto Meyer, U.S. Army (Ret.) Former Commander of the U.S. Army Pigeon Service, "G.I. JOE" is the most outstanding military pigeon in history and is credited with saving the lives of at least 1,000 British troops during World War II.
The British 56th Brigade was scheduled to attack the city of Colvi Vecchia, Italy, at 10 a.m., October 18, 1943. The U.S. Air Support Command was scheduled to bomb the city to soften the entrance for the British Brigade. The Germans retreated, leaving only a small rear guard, and as a result the British troops entered the city with little resistance and occupied it ahead of schedule.
All attempts to cancel the bombings of the city, made by radio and other means of communication, had failed. Little "G.I. JOE" was released with the important message to cancel the bombing. He flew 20 miles back to the U.S. Air Support Command base in 20 minutes, and arrived just as our planes were warming up to take off. If he had arrived a few minutes later it might have been a different story.
General Mark Clark, Commanding the U.S. Fifth Army, estimated that "G.I.JOE" saved the lives of at least 1,000 of our British allies.
In November 1946, "G.I. JOE" was shipped from Fort Monmouth, N.J. to London, England, where he was cited and awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry by the Lord Mayor of London. "G.I.JOE" is the only bird or animal in the United States to receive this high award. "G.I.JOE", a dark checker pied white flight cock, was hatched March 24, 1943, at the Pigeon Section in Algiers, Algeria, North Africa. Later he was taken to the Tunisian front, then to Bizerte, and from there to the Italian front.
After World War II, "G.I. JOE" was housed in the Churchill Loft, the U.S. Army's "Hall of Fame" at Ft. Monmouth, N.J., along with 24 other pigeon heroes. In March of 1957, the remaining pigeon heroes were placed with different zoological gardens throughout the U.S.A. "G.I. JOE" was placed with the Detroit Zoological Gardens where he died June 3, 1961, at the age of 18. "G.I. JOE" was returned, mounted, and placed in the US Army Communications-Electronics Museum, Fort Monmouth, N.J.
Other Exhibitions Involving G.I. Joe
The Cameron Art Museum - Toy Crazy, from October 5, 2008 - March 1, 2009, included a wildly diverse and irreverent selection of toys and games, from vintage mechanicals, Star Wars, GI Joe and Transformers to contemporary Japanese vinyl and plush toys — a reminder that there should always be time to play!
The Roq La Rue Art Gallery from March 13, 2008 - April 5, 2008, in Seattle, Washington featured a "Toybox" art exhibition with the stunning artwork of Robert Burden. Burden's paintings are epic portraits of the small action figures he once played with as a child and thought were magnificent. But as an adult, the toys were simply nostalgic, losing their magic they held in his young mind. In art, however, Burden depicts the toys as fantastically as they had been in his younger self's imagination. Known for the famous Battlecat painting, Burden also complete two enormous paintings after the popular G.I. Joe toy - "Serpentor" (90" x 60") and "Snake Eyes/Law" (114" x 44") as well as several drawings. See review by Tomopop About Town.
A Few Military Museums for G.I. Joe
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For more information on any of these exhibits, please contact the host institutions directly who are happy to help. The American Hero History Group is pleased to educate the public about these past and current exhibitions related to G.I. Joe. For more information on The Official G.I. Joe Museum, or to get your GI Joe event or exhibit listed above, please let us know via email.