We have all heard about this cute lady. But ... On this day in
1959, the first Barbie doll went on display at the American Toy Fair in New
York City. Did you know that?
tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy
doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth
Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her
young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of
adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a
toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.
appearance was modeled on a doll named Lilli, based on a German comic strip
character. Originally marketed as a racy gag gift to adult men in tobacco
shops, the Lilli doll later became extremely popular with children. Mattel
bought the rights to Lilli and made its own version, which Handler named after
her daughter, Barbara. With its sponsorship of the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV
program in 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials
to children. They used this medium to promote their new toy, and by 1961, the
enormous consumer demand for the doll led Mattel to release a boyfriend for
Barbie. Handler named him Ken, after her son. Barbie’s best friend, Midge, came
out in 1963; her little sister, Skipper, debuted the following year.
years, Barbie generated huge sales–and a lot of controversy. On the positive
side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s
gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess,
doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even U.S. presidential
Others thought Barbie’s never-ending supply of designer outfits,
cars and “Dream Houses” encouraged kids to be materialistic. It was Barbie’s
appearance that caused the most controversy, however. Her tiny waist and
enormous breasts–it was estimated that if she were a real woman, her
measurements would be 36-18-38–led many to claim that Barbie provided little
girls with an unrealistic and harmful example and fostered negative body image.
criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar, topping 1
billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in
the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide
Clancy's comment: I think I gave mine away a few years back.