facts about the invention
Barbie® doll by Ruth Handler in
AT A GLANCE:
Since its debut
in 1959, an anatomically improbable
molded plastic statuette named Barbie has become an icon. Ruth Handler
undeniably invented an American icon that functions as both a steady
outlet for girls'
dreams and an ever changing reflection of American society. This can be seen in the
history of Barbie's clothes, and even her various "face lifts" to suit the
times; in her professional, political and charitable endeavors; and more recently in the
multi-culturalizing of her product line.
DID YOU KNOW?
doll in 1959
||noun / Trademark (Reg,
small-scale anatomically improbable molded plastic figure of a human
being used especially as a child's plaything. Collectable doll.
0689055 issued December 1, 1959
||First to invent. First
to patent. Entrepreneur.
1916 in Denver, Colorado, Ruth Mosko
April 27, 2002 in Los
of Polish immigrant parents..
1938 Ruth married Elliot Handler
1945 Mattel founded by Harold Matson, Elliot Handler and Ruth Handler to
make picture frames
1946 Matson sells his interest to the Handlers. Mattel makes and sells
doll house furniture
1959 Ruth invents a three dimension doll named Barbie
1960 The success of the Barbie doll led Mattel to become a
1967 Ruth Handler becomes President of Mattel, Inc.
1974 the Handlers leave the Mattel company
CAPs: Barbie, Barbie Doll, Ruth Handler, Elliot Handler, Harold Matson,
SIPs: barbie inventor, biography, profile, history,
inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating
She's a successful businesswoman, a member of a
rock band and a Women's World Cup Soccer player. Who is this superstar? It's
none other than Barbie doll. A little hard to believe, but the Barbie Doll
started out as a human being! She was Barbara Handler, the daughter of Ruth
and Elliot Handler.
In the early 1950s, Handler saw that her young daughter, Barbara, and her
girlfriends enjoyed playing with adult female dolls as much or more than
with baby dolls. Handler sensed that it was just as important for girls to
imagine what they themselves might grow up to become as it was for them to
focus on what caring for children might be like.
Because all the adult dolls then available
were made of paper or cardboard, Handler decided to create a
three-dimensional adult female doll, one lifelike enough to serve as an
inspiration for her daughter's dreams of her future. Handler took her idea
to the ad executives at Mattel Corp., the company that she and her husband,
Elliot, had founded in their garage some years before: the (all-male)
committee rejected the idea as too expensive, and with little potential for
wide market appeal.
Soon thereafter, Handler returned from a trip
to Europe with a "Lilli" doll, modeled after a character in a German comic
strip. Handler spent some time designing a doll similar to Lilli, and even
hired a designer to make realistic doll clothes. The result was the Barbie
doll (named in honor of the Handlers' daughter), a pint-sized model of the
"girl next door."
Mattel finally agreed to back Handler's
efforts; and the Barbie doll debuted at the American Toy Fair in New York
City in 1959. Girls clamored for the doll, and Barbie set a new sales record
for Mattel its first year on the market (351,000 dolls, at $3 each). Since
then, Barbie's popularity has rarely flagged; and today, with over one
billion dolls sold, the Barbie product line is the most successful in the
history of the toy industry.
The first Barbie doll sported a ponytail
hairstyle, black and white zebra-striped bathing suit, open-toed shoes,
sunglasses and earrings. A line of fashions and accessories was also
available. Buyers at the industry’s annual Toy Fair in New York were not
impressed, but little girls certainly were and the Barbie doll took
retailers by storm. Mattel was so swamped with orders that it took several
years for supply to catch up with demand.
The Barbie doll was introduced as a teenage
fashion model, but in the years that followed she has taken on many
aspirational roles. She has tackled almost every conceivable profession,
including dentist, doctor, firefighter, astronaut, paleontologist—even
The Barbie doll has been joined by friends
and family over the years, including the Ken doll—named for the Handlers’
son—in 1961, Midge in 1963, Skipper in 1965 and Christie—an African-American
doll and the first of many ethnic friends—in 1968. More recently, in 1995,
the Barbie doll gained a little sister, Baby Sister Kelly, and, in 1997, a
disabled friend in a wheelchair, Share a Smile Becky.
Barbie doll is further expanding her versatile and limitless roles to
inspire girls' dreams as she prepares for the new millennium.
The world of the Barbie® doll today is a
great deal more than a doll and accessories. Barbie doll is keeping in step
by allowing girls to use their computers to program and personalize their
Barbie doll and design, create, play and dream using Barbie™ software. The
Barbie line has also developed into a broad array of exciting licensed
products for girls, including books, apparel, food, home furnishings and
From the beginning, Barbie
has also had her critics: the major accusation, from feminists and others, has been that
she reinforces sexism, representing a young woman with questionable intelligence and a
near-impossible physique. The late 60s even saw the creation of the "Barbie
Liberation Organization," after Mattel introduced "Ken", as Barbie's "handsome steady."
Despite such criticisms, playing
with Barbie dolls seems as a rule to enhance girls' self-image and expand their sense of
their potential rather than the opposite. This has become more true over the years, as
Barbie herself has expanded her horizons: she has now appeared as a doctor, astronaut,
businesswoman, police officer, UNICEF volunteer, and athlete.
Over the years, Barbie has achieved the title of the most
popular fashion doll ever created.
Handler Biography from
The Great Idea Finder
Toys from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages (1999)
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident,
from animal crackers to the zipper.
Story of Barbie Doll
by Kitturah B. Westenhouser / Hardcover: 240 pages Collector Books; 2nd edition (February
This expanded second edition tells of the many innovations of Mattel's Barbie doll
and the story
Barbie: The Icon, the Image, the Ideal an Analytical Interpretation of
the Barbie Doll in Popular Culture
by Kristin Noelle Weissman / Paperback: 128 pages / Universal
Publishers; 1 edition (1999)
It is critical to examine the conception and portrayal of an icon such
as the Barbie doll. As a predominant feature in American culture and
society, she is a fictitious character that many have contrived into a
The Barbie Chronicles
by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Editor) / Paperback - 256 pages
(October 1999) / Touchstone Books
Twenty-three writers join together to scrutinize Barbie's forty years of
hateful, lovely disastrous, glorious influence on us all.
Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll
by M. G. Lord / Paperback: 336 pages / Walker & Company; Reprint edition
(May 30, 2004)
If you think Barbie is just a child's plaything, you'll think again
after reading this fascinating, funny, and far-reaching biography of the
pointy-breasted, slim-waisted, high-arched gal who changed the way we
think about dolls and ourselves.
ON THE SCREEN:
History of Toys and Games
DVD / 1 Volume Set / 100 Minutes / The History Channel / Less than
As long as there have been children, there have been toys. And from
wooden tops to virtual reality, America has always taken its
playthings pretty seriously. Hear the fascinating stories of the
young-at-heart inventors who created some of the most famous games
and toys of all time, and meet the people who play for a living,
trying to anticipate what kids will fall for next holiday season.
ON THE WEB:
The official Web site of Mattel Corporation.
Ruth Handler is lovingly known to the world as the "Barbie doll's mom."
This site is slow loading.
Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour
Ruth Handler struggles to survive both professionally as one of the first
American women to run a major company in the 1950s and personally in her battle with
breast cancer. PBS POV Series.
Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual
awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
Featured Rith Handler for hert invention of The Barbie Doll.
The Barbie Doll
"New for '59, the BARBIE doll: A shapely teenage fashion Model! Retail price
Here, you'll find lots of useful tips and information about doll values, collector
favorites, and answers to your most frequently asked questions.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
"We didn't know how to run a
business, but we had dreams and talent." - Ruth Handler
“I believed it was important to a little girl’s self-esteem, to play with a
doll that has breasts.” - Ruth Handler
DID YOU KNOW?:
- One of the most successful dolls in history,
with sales of more than US$1.7 billion in 1998.
- The average American girl between the ages
of 3 and 11 owns ten Barbie dolls.
- Barbie doll is currently sold in more than
150 countries around the world.
- More than one billion Barbie dolls (and
family members) have been sold since 1959, and placed head-to-toe, the dolls would circle
the earth more than seven times.
- The best-selling Barbie doll ever created
was Totally Hair Barbie, introduced in 1992. With hair from the top of her head to her
toes, Totally Hair Barbie sold more than 10 million units, generating worldwide
sales of US $100 million.
- By the way, the Handlers had a son. His name was Ken. Other
dolls were named for Handler's grandchildren, including Stacie, Todd and Cheryl.
- Barbie dolls sell at the rate of two dolls every second.
- Ruth Handler invented something in 1959 which became so
quintessentially American as to be included in the official "America's Time
Capsule" buried at the celebration of the Bicentennial in 1976: the Barbie doll.
- If Barbie was 5 foot 6 instead of 11 1/2 inches tall, her
measurements, would be 39-21-33. An academic expert once calculated that a woman's
likelihood of being shaped like Barbie was less than 1 in 100,000. (Ken was shaped
somewhat more realistically: The chances of a boy developing his measurements were said to
be 1 in 50.)
trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Sources in BOLD Type.
page revised March 1, 2006.
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