To generations of kids, G.I. Joe presumably earned his famous scar while fighting for the United States’ freedom. Its actual back story, however, has to do with the battle for intellectual property.

To generations of kids, Joe earned the mark while fighting for freedom. But the actual back story has to do with the battle for intellectual property.

America’s Moveable Fighting Man came on the toy scene in 1964, and was an instant hit. The toys are still made today, although they’ve undergone a few facelifts through the decades.

But why have all those faces included a distinctive scar on the right cheek?

Soldier of fortune

G.I. Joe was invented by Don Levine, vice president and director of marketing and development at Hasbro.

The name was inspired by a 1945 film about film about war correspondent Ernie Pyle, titled The Story of G.I. JOE. The name was perfect, Levine told Smithsonian.com, “because ‘Government Issue Joe’ was a real everyman title.”

John Prieto/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Toymakers had accidentally put Joe’s right thumbnail on the bottom of his finger instead of the top, but Hasbro decided to keep it that way as a defining feature it could trademark.

Because it is possible to trademark a distinct human face, the scar helped Hasbro fend off competitors who might want to release a knockoff Joe.

While it’s a bit harder to explain an upside-down thumbnail as a casualty of war, America still loves G.I. Joe despite (or perhaps because of) his quirks.

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