If you grew up in the mid Seventies or early eighties, you'll have memories of playing with action figures which were all scaled at 3 ¾ inches, no matter what toy line they came from. 'Star Wars' characters rubbed shoulders with 'Micronauts', 'Battlestar Galactica' and a whole host of other characters. But how did they come to be the same size and more to the point, where did the scale come from?
The origins of the 3 ¾ inch scale can actually be traced back to 1:18 scale toy vehicles. In the U.S.A, toy producer Nylint introduced posable action figures in the early Seventies to accompany the pressed metal vehicles that it produced. The company had previously produced solid pose figures as accessories, so it didn't take a huge leap of imagination to make posable figures that could be placed behind the wheel. One early example of Nylint action figures is the 1975 Cadet County Fair set, which contained horses and two riders. At 1:18 scale the figures were 3 ¾ inches tall and their design was something that other toy companies quickly latched on to. Unlike Nylint which used its action figure purely as an accessory to it's vehicle range, other companies based toy lines around the action figure itself, with accessories, vehicles and playsets.
Fisher Price released the highly popular 'Adventure' series in 1975, with action figures almost identical to the Nylint range, complete with a massive range of vehicles and accessories. Another toy company seeking a scale for a new Toy line was Kenner. 3 ¾ inches was perfect for the Star Wars range and Kenner actually took Fisher Price Adventure figures and modified them to form the prototypes for the Star Wars range. Toy giant Mego produced 3 ¾ inch toy lines 'Comic Action Heroes' and 'CB McHaul', based very much on the film 'Convoy.' It was an action figure produced by another company however that would change Mego's view of the 3 ¾ inch scale and change the world of toys forever.
In Japan the 3 ¾ inch scale had developed independently of Western toys, although it seems to have a similar origin. In seeking a scale for it's new Microman range, Takara was inspired by 1:18 scale toy vehicles too. The Matchbox 1973 'Easy Rider Bike', which came with a posable 1:18 scale rider seems to have been the basis for the 1974 Microman vehicle 'Ultrasonic Scooter', which is almost exactly the same toy in both shape and proportion. The Takara version of 3 ¾ inch figures however was radically different to Nylint, Fisher Price and Co. Instead of stiff arms and legs, Micromen had bodies modelled on the twelve inch G.I Joe figure and could be posed in virtually any position a child could imagine. This giant step forward in quality would prove to be very influential.
In signing up Microman for the Western market in 1977, renaming it Micronauts, Mego was introduced to the revolutionary multi-posable 3 ¾ inch figure body. Out went the stiff Nylint style figures that Mego had previously produced and in came Microman style figures for 'C.H.I.P.S', 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century', 'The Black Hole' and an array of other Mego toy lines. Mego still produced figures from 'Star Trek the Motion Picture' and 'Love Boat' of the stiff limbed variety, perhaps to make them cheaper to manufacture.
Mattel also opted for the 3 ¾ inch scale for it's 'Battle Star Galactica' and 'Clash of the Titans' toy lines, adopting the stiff body style. 'The Eagles' from Airfix were multi-pose on the lower half of their bodies but were only articulated at the neck and shoulders on the top half. First produced in 1977 these fantastic toys probably owe much to the Micronauts in their design. It seems likely in the interim period between the deal to distribute Micronauts in the U.K and the toys arriving in the shops in 1978, Airfix had time to develop it's own 3 ¾ inch action figure.
The alternative to 3 ¾ inch toys in the 1970s were fully dressed figures, based on the 12 inch scale of 'GI Joe' and 'Action Man'. 'The Six Million Dollar' Man from Kenner was a major player, along with twelve inch versions of most of the sci-fi favourites including 'Star Wars'. In addition to 12 inch, Mego Toys had also popularised seven inch dressed figures with a huge number of different toy lines including 'The World's Greatest Super Heroes', 'The Planet of the Apes' and 'Star Trek.' Similar scaled dressed toys such as 'Little Big Man' from Palitoy, 'Fighting Furies' from Matchbox and the highly sought after 'Madelman' followed in Mego's wake. Mego even manufactured dressed figurers for other companies such as the 'Dr Who' range for Denys Fisher. As the Seventies drew to a close however, dressed toys fell out of favour, with high costs of manufacture and the problem of vehicles and playsets being too large and expensive to produce. Palitoy may have noticed the wind of change as it didn't sign the deal to distribute Star Wars 12" figures, leaving it instead to Denys Fisher. The 'Empire Strikes Back' generated only a single 12" toy, the 'IG-88' robot. 3 ¾ inch action figures had conquered the world of toys! In a final act of capitulation, former giants of the toy world, 'GI Joe' and 'Action Man' were reduced down to 3 ¾ inches. 'GI Joe' was given the multi-pose body but 'Action Man', renamed Action Force was given the stiff variety. 'Madelman' too was shrunk down to 3 ¾ inches and given a science fiction make over for the 1989 'Madelman 2050' range.
It was of course Kenner's 'Star Wars' range that did more than any other to popularise the 3 ¾ ich scale. Kenner improved the design in the early eighties for the 'Butch and Sundance' and 'Raider's of the Lost Ark' toy lines, making the figures posable at the knees and improving the quality of the detailing and accessories. Kenner's 'Star Wars' range improved also although the stiff body design was left unchanged, even with the later 'Droids' and 'Ewoks' toy lines. In fact the Star Wars range was so successful that Kenner has claimed to have invented the 3 ¾ scale action figure.
The 3 ¾ inch scale continued through the eighties although in smaller numbers, due to the fact that action figures had begun to be produced in a wide array of different scales. Mattel's 'Masters of the Universe' had led the charge in being the first major toy to break away from 3 ¾ inches and after that point, the toy box would never be the same. Toy companies made action figures in a scale of their own choosing, with the result being that most of the toys on sale did not match each other in the slightest. In addition to 'Star Wars' and 'G.I Joe' the few companies that chose to continue with 3 ¾ inches included Tomy with the 'Tron' range, Galoob with the 'A-Team' and Dapol with 'Dr Who'.
Support for the 3 3/4 scale arrived in the 1980s via toy vehicle manufacturers, with Ertl producing a series of 3 ¾ action figurers for it's 'Rangler' toy line and LJN with a Ferrari 308GTS with Magnum P.I figure, all with the multi-pose body style. Tonka produced series of post apocalypse inspired vehicles under the title 'Steel Monsters', each of which was supplied with a stiff bodied driver. An interesting fusion of toy concepts came with 'Robotix' which combined interchangeable mechanical vehicle sets with a range of stiff limbed 3 3/4 inch action figures. Expanding on it's original concept further, Nylint began producing 3 3/4 inch action figures packaged individually under the title 'Men of Steel' but they were never more exciting than construction workers and lorry drivers.
By the time the Nineties came about, 3 ¾ inch action figures became even more scarce, with Vivid Imaginations' solid bodied 'Space Precinct' toy line being the only one available. It was only when the Star Wars 'Power of the Force' range took a leap back into the world of 3 ¾ inches that the scale began to make a come back. The range proved to be highly popular and paved the way for other toy lines scaled at 3 ¾ inches. Today manufacturers have warmly embraced the scale again, with Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, Terminator Salvation, Marvel Superheroes, Star Trek and a resurgent G.I Joe and Micronauts.
The world of Action Figures has now come full circle with 3 ¾ inches again the dominant scale. Children can pit a Terminator against Darth Vader or allow Jack Sparrow take the controls of the Starship Enterprise. In short, exactly how it used to be.
CRAIG STEVENS - www.modelsbycraig.com