The G.I. Joe Museum

Who really coined the term, "G.I. Joe?" 

David Breger (April 15, 1908 – January 16, 1970) was an American cartoonist who created the syndicated Mister Breger (1945-1970), a gag panel series and Sunday comic strip known earlier as Private Breger Abroad and G.I. Joe.  The series led to widespread usage of the term "G.I. Joe" during World War II and later.   Dave Breger was his signature and the byline on his books.  During World War II, his cartoons were signed Sgt. Dave Breger.

Early life

Growing up in Chicago, where he was born of native Russian parents, Breger had drew for the school paper. He studied architectural engineering at the University of Illinois and then transferred to Northwestern University, where he edited the humor magazine while studying pre-med and psychology. He had no schooling in art or cartooning.

Graduating from Northwestern in 1931 with a degree in psychology, he spent a year traveling the world, and during that period he sold cartoons to the German magazine, Lustigeblaetter.  In 1937, Breger arrived in New York and began freelance cartooning.  He was drafted in 1941 into the United States Army where he repaired trucks.  By this time he was a published cartoonist, and his Private Breger panels were soon appearing in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post.

Private Breger and GI Jerry

King Features syndicated the gag panel, Private Breger Abroad from 19 October 1942 to 13 October 1945, but this syndication meant that when he began doing the character for Yank, the Army Weekly, a new name was necessary since it was in a different venue.  Looking around, he saw how many things were stamped "G.I." (for "government issue"), observed that soldiers had been called "GIs" since the previous world war, and dubbed the feature G.I. Joe.  He came up with the title G.I. Joe from the military term "Government Issue", and he arrived in the UK in 1942 as a Yank correspondent.  His G.I. Joe cartoon series began when he published the first ever GI Joe cartoon/comic on June 17, 1942 in Yank magazine's first issue. 

    First Yank magazine, cover, 17 June 1942.

He soon became one of the most famous and widely read of the WWII cartoonists, and the term "G.I. Joe" was then adopted first by soldiers and then the homefront as the popular term for the American foot soldier.  G.I. Joe became the Army's everyman, so well known that by 1945, when United Artists released The Story of G.I. Joe, it had long since left Private Breger behind.  The movie was about a completely different G.I. Joe (as was Hasbro's G.I. Joe, trademarked as "G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero"). 

Breger also produced GI Jerry, satirical cartoons about Hitler and others in the Nazi regime.  Private Breger was also seen on post cards.  The character remained a private throughout WWII, while Breger himself was promoted through the ranks to corporal, sergeant and eventually lieutenant.  Between 1942 and 1951, he did five books collecting his Army cartoons.  His fourth book, G.I. Joe (1945), featured Breger's namesake comics and was published in Garden City, New York by Blue Ribbon Books. 

GI Joe by Dave Breger - 1st Edition - 1945, Blue Ribbon Books. 

Post-World War II

Quickly following Breger (or maybe even a bit before), countless advertisers adopted the phrase "GI Joe" in their own advertisements.  From cigars to soap, everyone seemed to be selling things either to our 'Joes, or trying to sell the rest of us things these soliders used in WWII.

Returning to civilian life after WWII, Breger became a founding member of the National Cartoonists Society in 1946. Private Breger was discharged, and on 15 October 1945, the title was altered to become Mister Breger.  A Mister Breger Sunday strip was added 3 February 1946.  Breger and his wife eventually settled in West Nyack, New York and had three children.  When Breger died in 1970, he was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.  Mister Breger continued to run as a daily panel until 21 March 1970.  The final Sunday was published the following day, two months after his death. 

G.I. Joe in Bavaria Post-Cards:  As an aside, around 1945 publisher Schon-Druck printed 16 post cards in water colors featuring U.S. "GI's" in the Bavarian region.  These cards are also comic-like and were not done by Breger.  There are two types or sets of these cards, one is a simple book-like format featuring a GI solider starring at a sign pointing to Bavaria and another with a simple paper wrap around the cards and a circle cutout to see the image of one card.  The post cards all state, "Publication permitted by Military Government" and are signed, "Trautloft 45."  They are titled as follows:  (1) "A cigar," (2) "One Way Street," (3) "An orange?," (4) "Please let me through to Munich!," (5) "Watch the Birdie!," (6) "you have Kaugummi?," (7) "Eh, Fraulein, how about a milk shake?," (8) "Cupid with horns," (9) "German lesson," (10) "Security threat," (11) "Where's your daughter?," (12) "Solider, have you seen my dog?," (13) "Do you have a big sister?," (14) "Miss Bavaria 1945," (15) "What a waste of energy," (16) "J take Brooklyn."