G.I. Joe Five Facts: The Evolution of Joe
Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock in Paramount Pictures' 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation'.
If you're a guy who grew up in the '80s, chances are your childhood just wouldn't have been the same without G.I. Joe. Whether it was the comics, the Hasbro toy line, or the after-school cartoon, G.I. Joe was there.
With "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" opening this weekend, and a whole new complementary line of toys, the Joes are having a renaissance of sorts. But the truth is, they never really went anywhere at all. In fact, the '80s version was a Joe renaissance in its own right.
To celebrate this staple of pop culture, this week's Five Facts looks at the history of G.I. Joe, from the very first time the name appeared to the '60s toy for which the term "action figure" was coined to today's big-budget blockbuster starring the Rock, Channing Tatum, and Bruce Willis.
G.I. Joe logo courtesy of Hasbro.
What's in a Name?
1. The term "G.I. Joe" became widely used in World War II to describe any member of the United States armed forces, primarily enlisted soldiers. The origin of the name stems from "G.I.," the abbreviation for "government issue," which described pretty much any article federally distributed for military use. However, the meaning behind that abbreviation actually comes from the U.S. Army bookkeeping abbreviation for "galvanized iron," which was what standard-issue trash cans were made of.
The "Joe" part comes from cartoonist David Breger, who wrote and illustrated the popular wartime 'toon "Private Breger Abroad" for the Saturday Evening Post. In early 1942, Yank: The Army Weekly wanted Breger to write a similar cartoon but with a different name. Breger changed his starring soldier from Private Breger to Joe Trooper; then, after noticing how many items around the barracks were stamped "G.I.," he dubbed the character G.I. Joe.
Burgess Meredith (playing Ernie Pyle) and Ernie Pyle in 'Story of G.I. Joe'. Photo by Everett Collection.
G.I. Joe Goes to Hollywood
2. Thanks to the popularity of Breger's cartoon, the term "G.I. Joe" became part of every soldier's vernacular. But the term really took off after Robert Mitchum and Burgess Meredith starred in William Wellman's "Story of G.I. Joe" in 1945. The film tells the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning, boots-on-the-ground war correspondent Ernie Pyle, one of the most respected reporters ever. Pyle effectively brought the war home to millions by communicating the hardships and triumphs of the common foot soldier: the G.I. Some 60 years after Pyle tragically lost his life in the Pacific theater, Hasbro honored Pyle with his very own action figure, part of the G.I. Joe D-Day collection.