Don Levine dies at 86; developed Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figure

G.I. Joe creator Don Levine holds up his original scuba diver G.I. Joe prototype. Levine has died at 86.
(Victoria Arocho / Associated Press)

Don Levine, the Hasbro toy company executive credited as the father of G.I. Joe for helping develop the military action figure, has died. He was 86.

He died of cancer Friday at Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island in Providence, said his wife, Nan.

Levine shepherded the toy through design and development as Hasbro’s head of research and development. He and his team came up with an 11.5-inch articulated figure with 21 moving parts, and since the company’s employees included many military veterans, it was decided to outfit the toy in the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, with such accessories as guns, helmets and vehicles.

Levine, who served in the Army in Korea, said he got the idea for the movable figure as a way to honor veterans.


G.I. Joe hit the shelves in time for the 1964 Christmas shopping season and soon became a big seller at $4 apiece.

It remained popular until the late 1960s, when opposition to the Vietnam War intensified and parents shied away from military-related toys. In 1970 Hasbro countered by introducing “Adventure Team” G.I. Joes that played down the military connection. Into the ‘70s, G.I. Joes featured “lifelike hair” and “kung-fu grip” and were outfitted with scuba gear to save the oceans and explorer’s clothing for discovering mummies.

Over the decades, G.I. Joe has spawned comic books, cartoons, two movies starring Channing Tatum and a G.I. Joe Collector’s Club and its annual convention — GIJoeCon — held in Dallas in April.

Donald M. Levine was born in 1928 and graduated from Syracuse University. He is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, three children and four grandchildren.