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Fascinating facts about Ruth Handler inventor
of the Barbie doll in 1959.

Ruth Handler
Ruth Handler invented an anatomically improbable molded plastic statuette named Barbie. Since its debut in 1959,  the Barbie doll has become 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.
Inventor: Ruth Handler
Ruth Handler photo courtesy
Criteria: First to invent. First to patent. Entrepreneur.
Birth: November. 4, 1916 in Denver, Colorado, Ruth Mosko
Death: April 27, 2002 in Los Angeles, California
Nationality: American, of Polish immigrant parents..
Invention: Barbie® doll in 1959
Princess of Ireland Barbie courtesy Mattel, Inc
Function: noun / Trademark (Reg, U,S.)
Definition: A small-scale anatomically improbable molded plastic figure of a human being used especially as a child's plaything. Collectable doll.
Trademark: Reg. No. 0689055 issued December 1, 1959
1916 Ruth Mosko was born November. 4, 1916 in Denver, Colorado
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 publicly-owned company
1967 Ruth Handler becomes President of Mattel, Inc.
1974 The Handlers leave the Mattel company
On April 27, Ruth Handler dies in Los Angeles, California after a long fight against cancer
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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.

The Mattel company traces its beginnings to 1945, when a fledgling Mattel began operating out of a garage workshop. The original founders were Harold Matson, Elliot Handler and Ruth Handler, who coined "Mattel" by combining letters of their last and first names. The first Mattel product was picture frames, but Elliot soon developed a side business in doll house furniture made from picture frame scraps— which led to an emphasis on toys.

Matson soon sold out to his partners, and Elliot and his wife, Ruth, steadily expanded Mattel’s product line. Encouraged by the success of the doll furniture, they turned the company’s emphasis to toys. The Uke-A-Doodle, a child-size ukulele, was the first in a line of musical toys. A hand-crank, patented music box gave Mattel its first "staple" business, and versions of this product helped generate much of the company’s revenue in the ‘50s and ‘60s. In 1955, Mattel also introduced another highly successful product, the Burp Gun, an automatic cap gun based on a patented mechanism.

Also in 1955 came another, even more important turning point for Mattel. In a move that would eventually revolutionize the way toys were marketed, the Handlers bought 52 weeks of advertising on the new "Mickey Mouse Club" television show, marking the first time toys had been advertised on a year-round basis. In conjunction with the company’s sponsorship of the show, Mattel introduced a child-size "Mouseguitar," which became an instant sensation in the industry.

Mattel followed its musical toy success with a line of replica rifles and guns that reflected the 1950s popularity of Western-themed television shows like "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke."

In 1959, Ruth Handler became convinced, from watching her daughter, Barbara, play with paper dolls, that girls use dolls to act out future, rather than current, roles. (Barbara consistently preferred teenager or career women cutouts to babies or children.) “I believed it was important to a little girl’s self-esteem,” Handler has said, “to play with a doll that has breasts.” Ruth Handler suggested making a three-dimensional doll through which little girls could act out their dreams.

She named the doll "Barbie," which was the nickname of her real-life daughter. The doll was loosely based on a racy German comic-book character named Lilli, Barbie was introduced at the 1959 toy fair in New York City. By that summer, the doll had rocketed to the top of every American girl’s wish list.

The success of the Barbie doll led Mattel to become a publicly-owned company in 1960. Within five years, Mattel would join the ranks of companies on the Fortune list of the 500 largest U.S. industrial companies.

The early ‘60s also saw Mattel entering the worldwide toy market. The Barbie doll and other products were first test-marketed overseas in 1963, and were received so favorably that many products began to be manufactured under licensing agreements arranged by the company in England, France, Germany, South Africa, Italy and Mexico. In 1964, a wholly-owned subsidiary, Mattel S.A., opened its first sales office in Switzerland as a headquarters for the company’s worldwide marketing program.

During the ‘60s, the company created some of its most successful early products, including Thingmaker (featuring Creepy Crawlers) and two classic talking toys, Chatty Cathy and See ‘N Say. In 1968, Mattel introduced Hot Wheels miniature vehicles, another landmark product that helped the company reach out and capture boys’ imaginations the way the Barbie doll did for girls. In 1998, Hot Wheels celebrated its 30th anniversary and reached a milestone when the two-billionth car was produced. That makes Mattel the producer of more vehicles than Detroit’s big three car manufacturers combined.

By the early ‘70s, Mattel was generating $300 million in annual revenues. During this time period, the company began to diversify, acquiring a number of non-toy companies. These included Ringling Brothers And Barnum And Bailey Circus; Circus World, a theme park;

Metaframe, a pet products company; Turco, a manufacturer of playground equipment; Western Publishing Company, publishing under the popular Golden Book name; and even a motion picture production company—Radnitz/Mattel Productions—which produced the Academy Award-nominated feature film "Sounder."

The Handlers left Mattel in the mid-70s.


Invention of the Barbie Doll    from The Great Idea Finder
History of Toys   from The Great Idea Finder
Women Inventors, A Class Act   from The Great Idea Finder

The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
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Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.
The Story of Barbie Doll
by Kitturah B. Westenhouser / Hardcover: 240 pages Collector Books; 2nd edition (February 1999)

This expanded second edition tells of the many innovations of Mattel's Barbie doll and the story
behind her.

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.

Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story (Limited avai;ability)
by Ruth Handler, Jacqueline Shannon / ISBN: 068100763X / This title is out of print.
Ruth Handler tells her story in this truly fascinating work.

Ambassador of Dreams
Ruth Handler is lovingly known to the world as the "Barbie doll's mom." Lots of COOKIES at this site.
Invention 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 her invention of The Barbie Doll.
The official Web site of Mattel Corporation. Lots of COOKIES at this site.
Barbie Doll Revolutionized Toy Industry
Flashy clothes, the perfect boyfriend, a Corvette, Ferrari, full size apartment with beautiful furniture and a boat. She's the woman who has everything and every year receives more. Article by
Belem Ramos.
The Barbie Liberation Organization

This is an amorphous group of activists and media intervention superstars, whose most famous action involved switching the voice boxes in 300 Talking Barbie dolls and Talking G.I. Joe dolls during the Christmas season of 1989.
Who Made America - Ruth Handler
A California stenographer created the doll that became an American icon and a multibillion-dollar business.
Nearly Me
In 1976, Ruth Handler founded her second business, NEARLY ME® Inc. She created the first breast form that specifically fit the right or left side of the body, came in familiar bra sizes and followed the natural slope of the actual breast.
Ruth Handler Papers
Business and personal papers of Ruth Handler, founder of Mattel, Inc., and creator of Barbie Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University .

"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


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • She named the doll "Barbie," which was the nickname of her real-life daughter.
  • 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.
  • There are avid Barbie doll collectors -- a mint early model can go for more than $5,000
  • There is  a Barbie museum in Palo Alto, California
  • The newest dolls on board is the Islamic Barbie, joining Hispanic Barbie, Jamaican Barbie, Native-American Barbie, Kenyan Barbie and Chinese Barbie, among others.
  • About 172,800 Barbie dolls are sold every day -- that's two every second.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised November 30, 2006.

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