Did the 1970s Gas Crisis Cause the Demise of the Original G.I. Joe?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about toys and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all toy urban legends featured so far!

TOY URBAN LEGEND: The original line of G.I. Joe toys ended because of the 1970s gas crisis.

G.I. Joe was a popular children’s doll (or “action figure”) who debuted in 1964.

G.I. Joe was a twelve inch plastic doll that had vinyl outfits. As the character became more and more popular, the maker of the toy (Hasbro) began developing different varieties of the toy. In the late 1960s, with the Vietnam War at his peak, the “soldier” aspect of the toy was downplayed and G.I. Joe became more of an “adventurer” than a “soldier.”

By the late 1970s, the toy had gone through a number of changes and sales had slowed a bit. However, the biggest cause in the demise of the original G.I. Joe came in a surprising place – Iran.

You see, in 1973, the world saw its first gas crisis as the Arab nations that controlled much of the world’s oil chose to use their control of the supply as a negotiating tool with regards to the then-current war between Israel and a coalition of Arab countries (led by Egypt and Syria). The Arab nations wished to push the United States into convincing Israel to end the conflict, so they cut the United States off from Middle Eastern oil.

Oil prices naturally skyrocketed. Although they subsided when the United States brokered a peace in 1974.

In 1978, though, there was a revolution in Iran, then the second-largest distributors of oil in the world. The revolution led to the cessation of oil production in Iran. The other Middle Eastern countries could not cover the supply gap and prices skyrocketed once again.

It was here that Hasbro ran into a problem. You see, G.I. Joes were made almost entirely out of petroleum-based products. Petroleum was used for the plastic that made up the figure itself as well as the vinyl that made up some of the outfits of G.I. Joe and his friends. If sales had been as strong as they were in the early 1970s, Hasbro probably would have kept going, but their now fourteen year old toy line was a bit long in the tooth anyways, so the increase in production cost was too much and the line was shuttered in 1978 (they tried one more revamp before closing down – a futuristic approach to G.I. Joe in 1978 with “Super Joe,” with smaller eight inch figures).

When the toy line restarted in 1982, it was now with smaller, cheaper-to-produce toys (something Kenner showed could be done successfully in the late 1970s with their Star Wars line of toys).

The legend is…

STATUS: Basically True

Thanks to Dawn Herlocher’s 200 Years of Dolls: Identification and Price Guide for the information about why Hasbro discontinued the original line of G.I. Joe toys. Thanks to commenter Luke for making some suggestions for small changes to the piece.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

3 Responses to “Did the 1970s Gas Crisis Cause the Demise of the Original G.I. Joe?”

  1. The success of the Star Wars toys and the oil price increase also led to Pallitoy in the UK developing the ‘Action Force’ line that was basically mini Action Man figures originally. (AM being the UK equivalent to 12in GI Joe.) The line was then relaunched in ’84 as a new more GI Joe like international team battling bad guys before being relaunched again in ’85 as repackaged GI Joe toys.

    12in Action Man managed to keep going until the late 80s though.

  2. Timothy Markin on August 15th, 2015 at 3:43 am

    Seems like the last gas crisis during the recession a few years ago caused the prices of action figures to rise dramatically. The Marvel Legends figures had been under $10 at one time, then rose to $20, and unfortunately, the prices never came down after the recession ended.

  3. Timothy Markin on August 15th, 2015 at 3:46 am

    And there is also a Comic Book Legend that explains how the catalyst for GI Joe’s Real American Hero line had been a failed proposal for SHIELD.

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