Ruth Handler, one of the co-founders of one of the biggest toy businesses in the world, Mattel, Inc., created the iconic Barbie doll. The idea for Barbie came to Ruth Handler when she noticed her daughter, Barbara, playing with paper dolls and giving them adult roles. Ruth Handler recognized that there was a gap in the toy market for dolls that represented adult women, rather than just baby dolls.
The German Bild Lilli doll, which was based on a risqué comic strip character, inspired Ruth Handler and her husband Elliot Handler to produce a more opulent and sophisticated doll for the US market. In 1959, Mattel introduced the Barbie doll at the American International Toy Fair in New York City.
The Barbie doll was named after Ruth Handler’s daughter, Barbara, and it was marketed as a teenage fashion model. The doll had a slim figure with an adult woman’s proportions, which was quite different from the baby dolls available at the time. Barbie’s design was a departure from traditional toy dolls, and she quickly gained popularity among children and collectors alike.
Throughout the years, Barbie has undergone various transformations, reflecting changing cultural attitudes and trends. She has represented diverse careers, fashion styles, and cultural backgrounds, becoming a symbol of empowerment and aspiration for many young girls around the world.
Despite some controversies and criticism over the years, Barbie remains one of the most recognizable and influential dolls globally, and her impact on popular culture and the toy industry is significant.
Creator of Barbie
Ruth Marianna Handler was an American entrepreneur and inventor who lived from November 4, 1916, to April 27, 2002. She co-founded the toy firm Mattel with her husband, Elliot, and is best known for creating the Barbie doll in 1959. She also served as the organization’s first president from 1945 to 1975.
Elliot tried his hand at building furniture as a pastime. He made the decision to use Lucite and Plexiglas, two new types of plastic, for their furniture. He started doing this for profit at Ruth Handler’s suggestion, and together they started a furniture company. Ruth Handler served as the company’s sales representative and won contracts with companies like Douglas Aircraft Corporation and others.
Birth of Iconic Barbie Doll
As Ruth observed her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls, she frequently loved giving the dolls adult duties. The majority of children’s play dolls at the time were depictions of infants. She pitched her husband, Elliot, the concept of an adult-bodied doll after realizing there might be a market gap.
Ruth discovered a German doll named Bild Lilli while traveling through Europe in 1956 with her kids, Barbara and Kenneth. Ruth knew exactly what she wanted, and she bought three of the adult-figured dolls. One was given to her daughter, and she returned the rest to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a well-known figure from a satirical comic strip made by Reinhard Beuthin. In spite of being primarily targeted at adults, the Lilli doll quickly gained popularity among kids, who loved dressing her up in separate clothing after it was first introduced to the market in Germany in 1955.
Barbie was given a new name after Handler’s daughter Barbara after Ruth modified the doll upon her return to the United States with assistance from local inventor-designer Jack Ryan. Barbie made her debut on March 9, 1959, at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Within a year, Mattel sold 351,000 dolls. Subsequently, the Handlers and Mattel expanded the cast of characters by adding many more, including Ken, named after the Handlers’ son, as Barbie’s lover.
“Nearly Me” another Invention
In 1970, Handler received a breast cancer diagnosis. She underwent a modified radical mastectomy to treat this, which was a common treatment at the time to treat the illness. Handler made her own breast prosthesis after having trouble finding a satisfactory one. Peyton Massey, Handler’s new business partner, helped her create Ruthton Inc., under which she produced “Nearly Me,” a more accurate replica of a woman’s breast. Betty Ford, the first lady at the time, had one personally fitted for her because of how well-liked this invention was.
On April 27, 2002, at the age of 85, Handler passed away in California as a result of complications from colon cancer surgery. Elliot, her spouse of nine years, passed away at age 95.In the 2023 movie Barbie, played by Rhea Perlman, Handler is presented as an elderly spirit who lives at the Mattel headquarters in Los Angeles and aids the main character, a stereotypical Barbie model.