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The History of Action Figures – Part 1

My Origin Story

In the late 1980’s there was a TV show that sparked the imagination of every kid who saw it.  I am of course talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  To complement the insanely popular TV show, a huge toy line was also created by playmates.  I can still recall every figure and accessory I collected from that period.  There were some incredibly original ideas in this toyline from a working “pizza thrower” to a mutating Michelangelo figure!  This was the beginning of a life long obsession with action figures.

teenage mutant ninja turtles playmates toys
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -Original Playmates Toyline

I’m sure you can also remember your first childhood action figures, but where exactly did these plastic beings come from?

America’s movable fighting man

Action figures have been around since the mid 1960’s.  In fact it was in 1964 that Hasbro first created the now infamous G.I Joe figure.  The term “action figure” was used to appeal to a young male audience and the toys were a huge hit.  The original G.I Joe stood at 11.5 inches tall.  The army themed figure featured interchangeable clothes.  These were designed to suit the different combat situations that Joe might be facing (Usually stuffed face down in a sand box!).

GI Joe Original
The Original GI Joe

Hasbro was quick to cash in on the GI Joe line and made several licencing deals with companies from other countries.  This led to variant products showing up with region specific accessories.  In fact it was as a result of a sub licensing deal with Takara that the Microman toy line was produced.  This line spawned ideas that would eventually form the Transformers action figure line in america.

Star Wars

In the 1970’s action figures generally shrunk in size to around 3 and 3/4 inches.  This was due to the global oil supply crisis affecting many nations at that time.  Kenner was another american toy company that was eager to have a piece of the action figure pie.  They obtained the rights to produce the Star Wars action figure line.  The runaway success of this line was incredible and cemented kenner into action figure history.  Sealed versions of these figures have increased in value substantially over the years, with some now rumoured to be worth over $20,000!

kenner luke skywalker action figure
Kenner Luke Skywalker action figure

If you are a fan of the simpsons you may recall the episode where Ralph Wiggum wins the school science fair due to owning all of the original sealed star wars characters!  As time went on these products cemented themselves into populare culture and helped paved the way for an incredible explosion of action figures in the 1980s.   Stay tuned for The History of Action Figures – Part 2, where we will be looking at many of the biggest action figures in history!  Thanks for reading.

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