The World’s First G.I. Joe———Unique Arts’ All-Metal Wind-Ups Predated Hasbro Toy Line———By 20 Years!

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Not Quite “Eagle-Eyes”— But pretty cool-looking, nonetheless. This super-closeup of the first toy to EVER bear the name “G.I. Joe” reveals he wasn’t a plastic action figure made in Japan, but actually a pressed metal tin-toy manufactured in the U.S. toward the end of WWII; surprisingly—by a toy company legally designated as the “G.I. Joe Corporation.” (Photo: Ralph L. Tomlinson)

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Repro Boxes (such as the one shown above) for “G.I. Joe and His Jouncing Jeep” are expensive—almost as much as the toy itself! (Photo: ToyTent)

Does YOUR GIjOE Collection Start at the Very Beginning—Way Back in 1944?

The first-ever GIjOE toys didn’t fight Nazis or spandex-clad terrorist bad guys named “Cobra.” Rather, they drove odd, tractor-shaped Jeeps around in random, drunken circles, bumping into anything and everything in their paths. OR… they carried around (for whatever reason) suitcases full of puppies(!) as they briskly walked across the floor. It’s hardly the sort of “Capture Hill 79” action we’re used to, but that’s the way it was—back in 1944. Feeling confused? Don’t worry. If you’ve never heard of the “G.I. Joe and His Jouncing Jeep” toy before, renowned toy collector, Ralph L. Tomlinson (now deceased), one of the nation’s premier experts, described it as:

Ralph L. Tomlinson, Renowned toy collector. (Photo: Tomlinson family)

Ralph L. Tomlinson, Renowned toy collector. (Photo: Tomlinson family)

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“This lithographed tin wind-up toy was manufactured by Unique Art Manufacturing Company under license from the G.I. Joe Corporation. It features a spring-action mechanism that can be activated with a key.

The toy then comically jerks back and forth while the soldier is propelled forward, making his helmet fall over his eyes. This is one example of how many toy companies tried to capitalize on the United States patriotic mood after WWII.”

Driving a

Hold on Tight, Joe! Driving a “Jeep” that looks suspiciously like a tractor, the first-EVER G.I. Joe-branded toy was a cute little soldier doing his darndest to keep a “jet propelled” Jeep traveling at “supersonic speed” safely on the road. The toy’s pressed-tin construction, with bright litho painted graphics, assures that even 70 years after its construction—it still looks GREAT! (Photo: GunShyCC)

The G.I. Joe you never knew existed— G.I. Joe and

“Search for the Little Puppies” In this closeup of a GIjOE you probably never knew existed, Joe carries two baskets(?) full of forlorn looking puppies, complete with sad, hangdog expressions and bandaged noggins. Were they casualties of war? Poor Little Puppies! (Photo: ebay)

But Wait—There’s More. MUCH More…

The more we dig into the obscure origins of GIjOE, the more intriguing his history becomes. For example, while we’d known for many years that there was some old tin-toy called “G.I. Joe and His Jouncing Jeep” (see above), we’d never really given it much thought until now. D’oh! What a mistake. Yes, he’s pretty silly looking. The toy was targeted at very young children (3-5) as a pressed metal wind-up, and it didn’t seem to have much of a place in our modern GIjOE collections. In fact, other than winding him up and watching him go, there isn’t much else you can do with these earliest GIjOEs. But hold on there just a minute…

Thankfully, our intrepid TJR Field Reporter, Keith Davis, came across one of these gems of GIjOEs past in an Ohio antique store recently and wrote in to remind us of the importance of these very unique toys (by “Unique Arts”)—especially to collectors of all things GIjOE. An adamant Davis reminded us that there was indeed MUCH more to this old toy than we had imagined. And after providing some superb photos of his discovery, he urged us to delve even deeper into its past. We did. And here’s what we learned:

FIRST, we had no idea that these GIjOEs predated Hasbro’s “movable fighting man” by over 20 years. To be honest, their brightly colored litho graphics reminded us of post-war toys made in Japan, so we had mentally pegged them at around 1960 or so. How wrong we were! G.I. Joe and His Jouncing Jeep were first created and sold back in 1944.

SECOND (and even more surprising) was when we learned that these early GIjOEs were manufactured not just by Unique Art Mfg., but by a toy company called—wait for it—the “G.I. Joe Corporation.” Whoa!

THIRD and most important: It turns out that there was more than one variation of these 1944 G.I. Joe metal toys, thereby turning them into a legitimate toy LINE (albeit a very short one, consisting of only 2 products). The second figure was a wind-up walker (no vehicle) who’s taken it upon himself to rescue stray K-9 puppies. Yes, you read that right. Remember, these toys were targeted to very young children. So shooting and killing “bad guys” simply wasn’t on their radar yet (even in 1944).

On the flip side— G.I. Joe's Jeep is boldly described as having

On the Flip-Side— G.I. Joe’s Jouncing Jeep is boldly lettered with “Watch Joe Go” and as having “Atomic Brakes;” fully a YEAR before the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb. (Photo: GunShyCC)

We asked Davis if he could describe the condition of the Jouncing Jeep (the exact one shown in the photo above) that he’d found at that antique mall in Ohio and he kindly replied:

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“One of the big rear wheels keeps partly slipping off the drive axle, because the factory (at the time of manufacture) failed to crimp the axle’s outside end to keep the wheel from going over the end, and that makes the wheel very floppy.”
As seen from the front, the toy is clearly labeled

Instead of Being a “5-Star” Jeep, the first-ever GIjOE only rated a 3-Star version. Nevertheless, as seen from the front, this toy was clearly and boldly labeled “G.I. JOE,” making it a “must-have” for collectors. (Photo: GunShyCC)

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“The rest is in rather good, but NOT Perfect condition, probably because it wasn’t run very much due to that factory failure. Someone may have the skills to carefully crimp that axle and flare it back out as it should have been, but in the purist sense, this is the way THIS unit was from day one.”
THERE'S the payoff— On the back-end of the Jeep, the manufacturer and manufacturing date are clearly written. How COOL! (Photo: GunShyCC)

THERE’S the Payoff— On the back-end of the Jeep, the manufacturer and manufacturing date are clearly shown. How COOL! (Photo: GunShyCC)

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“Look closely at my photos, and you’ll see that there’s some wear and tear on this toy. There is a small amount of rust in some places as well, so keep that in mind when comparing these on the open market.” —Keith “GunShyCC” Davis
Bottom View of the

Bottom View of “G.I. Joe and his Jouncing Jeep” (Photo: Grand Old Toys)

An original Jouncing Jeep box, over 70 years old, has sharp, clear graphics and still makes an AWESOME display. (Photo: Grand Old Toys)

An Original Jouncing Jeep Box— Although it’s over 70 years old, this box still has sharp, clear graphics and would make an AWESOME display piece in any GIjOE collection. (Photo: Grand Old Toys)

The top panel view of the superb repro box by Toy Tent. (Photo: Toy Tent)

The top panel view of the superb repro box by Toy Tent. (Photo: Toy Tent)

The box for

This repro box for “G.I. Joe and K-9 Pups” is rather plain by comparison to the Jouncing Jeep version. (Photo: Toy Tent)

Bottom Line: These are cool GIjOE-related toys, especially if you can find ’em with their original boxes (or afford some reproductions). Our sincerest thanks to Keith Davis and Ralph L. Tomlinson for educating us on this largely unknown and earliest aspect of GIjOE history. Remember… shop around for the best prices and compare conditions carefully before you buy. It’ll save you a headache later. If you’d like to see these early GIjOE toys in action, we suggest take a look at these two cool videos (shown below). Enjoy!

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2 thoughts on “The World’s First G.I. Joe———Unique Arts’ All-Metal Wind-Ups Predated Hasbro Toy Line———By 20 Years!

  1. Diana Davis says:

    You mean you never heard of the movie The Story of GI Joe from 1945?

    The term G.I. predates WWII, and “GI Joe” arouse as a generic term for US troops around the mid thirties…It was Dave Breger’s strip in the UK for American Soldiers, “GI Joe” that really made the term universally popular. Later comics followed.

    The first movie, the 1945 one, featured Burgess Meredith, who, of course, played Golobulous in the 1987 GI Joe, The Movie.

    • Thanks for writing, Diana. We were referring to the first TOY ever produced and named as a “G.I. Joe.” Do you know of a toy named G.I. Joe that predates this one?

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