We are commemorating the 60th birthday of one of the most iconic toys in history — Barbie.
On this day in 1959, an 11-inch blonde made her official debut at the American Toy Fair in New York City and unleashed a new multi-billion dollar market for toy dolls.
California stenographer, Ruth Handler was the woman behind the creation of Barbie — the first mass-produced toy doll in the U.S. with adult features. Handler became the first to successfully market toys directly to American children, not their parents.
Handler was born into a family of Russian Jewish immigrants, and worked with her husband to grow their company Mattel, also named after another partner. By the mid-1940s, the company was generating $21.6 million dollars in revenue, some of which came from the production of plastic toy furniture, which Ruth marketed to customers.
In 1956, the Handlers traveled to Europe with their teenage children Barbara and Ken. During their trip a doll named "Lilli," who looked like an adult woman, fascinated Ruth. The adult doll was a solution to a problem Ruth noticed her daughter having as a child. After Barbara outgrew her baby dolls, she would create her own paper dolls.
But she struggled to imagine herself in them.
It's said that Ruth's idea for Barbie was conceived after she realized a valuable market of girls was being missed by the toy industry. In 1959 Ruth named Barbie after her daughter Barbara. And in 1961, a male doll, named after her son joined Barbie.
In 1955, Ruth Handler took a big risk, placing the entire worth of her company in a sole sponsorship of "Mickey Mouse Club" TV. The deal turned out to be more than worth it, making Mattel the first toy company to broadcast commercials directly to children. Now more than 800 million Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide.
Although Barbie has faced much controversy in its history from criticism that Barbie promotes a false body image to the lack of representation for all women and girls in its toy dolls. But the company has made a noticeable change this year in evolving its toy dolls to include various skin colors, body shapes, and clothing.
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mattel/Twitter