The History of Barbie Dolls

Ruth Handler invented the Barbie Doll in 1959.

Mattell Founders - Ruth and Elliott Handler With Barber Doll
Mattell Founders - Ruth and Elliott Handler With Barber Doll. Courtesy of Mattell

The Barbie doll was invented in 1959 by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel), whose own daughter was named Barbara. Barbie was introduced to the world at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie's job was to serve as a teenage fashion doll. The Ken doll was named after Ruth's son and was introduced two years after Barbie in 1961.

Barbie Facts & Technology

The full name of the first doll was Barbie Millicent Roberts from Willows, Wisconsin.

Barbie's job was that of a teenage fashion model. However, the doll has been made in versions connected to over 125 different careers.

She came as either a brunette or blond, and in 1961 red hair was added. In 1980, the first African American Barbie and Hispanic Barbie were introduced. However, Barbie did have a black friend named Christie who was introduced in 1969.

The first Barbie was sold for $3. Additional clothing based on the latest runway trends from Paris were sold, costing from $1 to $5. In the first year (1959), 300,000 Barbie dolls were sold. Today, a mint condition "#1" (1959 Barbie doll) can fetch as much as $27,450. To date, over 70 fashion designers have made clothes for Mattel, using over 105 million yards of fabric.

There has been some controversy over Barbie Doll's figure when it was realized that if Barbie was a real person her measurements would be an impossible 36-18-38.

Barbie's "real" measurements are 5 inches (bust), 3 ¼ inches (waist), 5 3/16 inches (hips). Her weight is 7 ¼ ounces, and her height is 11.5 inches tall.

In 1965, Barbie first had bendable legs, and eyes that open and shut. In 1967, a Twist 'N Turn Barbie was released that had a moveable body that twisted at the waist.

The best-selling Barbie doll ever was the 1992 Totally Hair Barbie, with hair from the top of her head to her toes.

Biography of Ruth Handler

Ruth and Elliot Handler co-founded Mattel Creations in 1945 and 14 years later in 1959, Ruth Handler invented the Barbie doll. Ruth Handler refers to herself as "I'm Barbie's mom."

Inspiration for the Barbie Doll

Handler watched her daughter Barbara and friends playing with paper dolls. The children used them to play make-believe, imagining roles as college students, cheerleaders and adults with careers. Handler wanted to invent a doll that would better facilitate the way young girls were playing with their dolls.

Handler and Mattel introduced Barbie, the teenage fashion model to skeptical toy buyers at the annual Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. The new doll was very unlike the baby and toddler dolls that were popular at the time. This was a doll with an adult body.

So what was the inspiration? During a family trip to Switzerland, Handler saw the German made Bild Lilli doll in a Swiss shop and brought one. The Bild Lilli doll was a collector's item snd not intended for sale to children, however, Handler used it as the basis of her design for Barbie.

The Barbie Doll’s first boyfriend, the Ken Doll, debuted two years after Barbie in 1961.

Ruth Handler on Barbie Doll

“Barbie has always represented that a woman has choices. Even in her early years, Barbie did not have to settle for only being Ken’s girlfriend or an inveterate shopper. She had the clothes, for example, to launch a career as a nurse, a stewardess, a nightclub singer. I believe the choices Barbie represents helped the doll catch on initially, not just with daughters - who would one day make up the first major wave of women in management and professionals – but also with mothers,” Handler said.

Ruth Handler - Other Inventions

After fighting breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy in 1970, Handler surveyed the market for a suitable prosthetic breast. Disappointed in the options available, she set about designing a replacement breast that was more similar to a natural one.

In 1975, Handler received a patent for Nearly Me, a prosthesis made of material close in weight and density to natural breasts.

The Story of Mattel

One example of a contemporary toy manufacturer is Mattel, an international company. Toy manufacturers produce and distribute most of our toys. They also research and develop new toys and buy or license toy inventions from inventors.

Mattel began in 1945 as a garage workshop belonging to Harold Matson and Elliot Handler. Their business name "Mattel" was a combination of the letters of their last and first names, respectively. Matson soon sold his share of the company, and the Handlers, Ruth and Elliot, took full control. Mattel's first products were picture frames. However, Elliot started making dollhouse furniture from picture frame scraps. That proved to be such a success that Mattel switched to making nothing but toys. Mattel first big-seller was the "Uka-a-doodle," a toy ukulele. It was the first in line of musical toys.

In 1948, the Mattel Corporation was formally incorporated in California. In 1955, Mattel changed toy marketing forever by acquiring the rights to produce the popular "Mickey Mouse Club" products. The cross-marketing promotion became common practice for future toy companies.

In 1955, Mattel released a its successful patented toy cap gun called the burp gun. In 1959, the now famous Barbie Doll invented by Ruth Handler was released.

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Barbie Dolls." ThoughtCo, Apr. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/history-of-barbie-dolls-1991344. Bellis, Mary. (2017, April 30). The History of Barbie Dolls. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-barbie-dolls-1991344 Bellis, Mary. "The History of Barbie Dolls." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-barbie-dolls-1991344 (accessed November 22, 2017).