Barbie’s History


1st Issue Barbie 1959 1st Issue Barbie 1959 German Bild Lilly 1957

The Year: 1959

The Place: The New York Toy Show.

The Barbie Doll Debut……….

And the rest is History.

The Creators:

This story takes place in the 1930’s. It’s a story that starts out sounding like one we’ve all heard before.

A young girl meets a boy and they fall in love. The girl graduates from high school. She has visions of a great career success in the real world and wants to go to college. Her parents are not overly enthusiastic about college since it is more traditional for a girl to get married and raise a family. The girl goes to college anyway and marries the boy too. This married girl and boy are Ruth and Elliot Handler. They raise two children, Barbie and Ken.

In the mid 1940’s, the young ambitious duo Ruth and Elliot Handler, owned a company that made wooden picture frames. Elliot and his partner Harold Mattson built the samples and Ruth was in charge of marketing them. Elliot began to use the scraps of wood from picture frames to make doll furniture. This was the beginning of their toy business. It was in 1945 that Ruth and Elliot Handler joined with their close friend Harold Mattson to form a company that would be known for the most famous and successful doll ever created. This company would be named Mattel, MATT for Mattson, and EL for Elliot. Mattel continued to grow from a very profitable business into a corporate giant.

In the mid 1950’s, while visiting Switzerland, Ruth Handler purchased a German Lilli doll. Lilli was a shapely, pretty fashion doll first made in 1955. She was originally fashioned after a famous cartoon character in the West German Newsletter, Bild. Lilli was made of hard plastic with molded on shoes and earrings. She was available in 11 ½” or 7″ in heights. Her hair was long and pulled back into a ponytail. There was a large wardrobe available for this doll. Lilli is the doll that would inspire Ruth Handler to design the Barbie doll.

Ruth knew what she wanted Barbie to look like. With the help of her technicians and engineers at Mattel, Barbie was born. Ruth then hired Charlotte Johnson, a fashion designer, to create Barbies wardrobe.

It was in 1958 that the patent for Barbie was obtained. This would be a fashion doll unlike any of her time. She would be long limbed, shapely and beautiful, all of this and only 11 ½” tall.

Paper fashion dolls of the times would give way to a three dimensional beauty with a wardrobe of unsurpassed quality. Ruth and Elliot would name their new fashion doll after their own daughter, Barbie. Barbie dolls’ soon to be boyfriend Ken, would be named after their son Ken.

In March of 1959, Barbie doll would make her way to the New York Toy Show and receive a cool reception from the toy buyers. She would be viewed as risky to buyers since she was not the typical style selling baby doll of the times. Upon seeing Barbie on store shelves, the public decided differently. By 1960, the mood would change and the orders started pouring in to Mattel. It took several years for Mattel to catch up with the demand for Barbie. Within ten years, the public purchased $500 million worth of Barbie products.

Barbie has undergone a lot of changes over the years and has managed to keep up with current trends in hairstyles, makeup and clothing. She is a reflection of the history of fashion since her introduction to the toy market. Barbie has a universal appeal and collectors of all ages enjoy time spent and memories made with their dolls.


The immediate family prior to 1992: BARBIESKIPPER(Sister), TUTTI & TODD(twin sister & brother)

The immediate family after 1992: BARBIESKIPPER(sister), STACIE & TODD(twin sister & brother), KELLY(baby sister)

Following is a list of the dolls made during various time periods. Following each name is the years of production and then the relationship of each doll to Barbie.

 Barbie’s History, a classic childhood doll since 1959, has become an important part of childhood for most little girls and their mom’s, but if it had not been for the imagination and vision of Ruth Handler back in 1959  there would never have been this popular fashion doll.

BD 1st2011 10 09 1749 114x300 Barbies HistoryHowever the story starts well before that, when in the 1940′s, Ruth and her husband Elliot, owned a company making wooden picture frames. Their partner was Harold Mattson, he and Elliot made sample frames and Ruth did the marketing. Rather than waste the off-cuts of wood, Elliot made them into dolls house furniture and by 1945, the now world famous Mattel toy company was launched. The name was derived from a combination of the founder’s names.

It was during a visit to Switzerland in the 50′s that Ruth bought a German doll called Lilli, she was a fashion doll with long hair and an extensive wardrobe and Ruth was so impressed with her she decided to develop a fashion doll herself who was later named ‘Barbie’ after her own daughter. Barbie was first shown at the American Toy Fair in New York City in 1959, priced at $3 and was a very huge success setting a new sales record for Mattel selling 351,000 Barbies in the first year!

This was a complete change of style in the American doll market as until then, the only ones manufactured were mostly baby dolls, Barbie looking like a teenage fashion model, with the clothes to match was something totally different! Initially the buyers at the toy fair were unenthusiastic, but the public, especially the little girls at the time couldn’t get enough Barbies and Mattel took several years to catch up with the demand. The Ken doll was issued in 1961, also named after a family member, Ruth’s’ son Ken. The whole Barbie concept was so successful that Mattel sold $500 million worth of Barbie items in the first ten years!

BD112011 08 16 10221 228x300 Barbies HistoryFollowing on from Barbie’s first modeling career, there have been themed versions of her in over one hundred and twenty five other careers in Barbie’s History. Originally only produced as a blond, Barbie was issued with red hair in 1961 and in 1968 her black friend Christie, was added to the range. 1980 versions were also available in African American and Hispanic styles and in 1993 were joined by a Native American Barbie. There have been various other changes including a 1965 Barbie with bendable limbs and opening and closing eyes and two years later a Twist ‘N Turn Barbie with a twist at the waist feature.

It is not only the dolls which have been so successful, the Barbie clothes are also top sellers; so far more than seventy fashion designers have created her extensive wardrobe, requiring over 105 million yards of material! To date, the best selling Barbie ever was the 1992 Totally Hair Barbie, which featured very long hair reaching to her toes. Today, she remains as popular as ever.

BD total hair2011 10 10 1448 203x300 Barbies HistoryIt is not only little girls who collect Barbies, they have become modern antiques with early versions in good condition commanding extremely high prices. 1992 totally Hair Barbie, which featured very long hair reaching to her toes. Today, she remains as popular as ever, but it is not only little who collect Barbies, they have become modern collectibles with early versions in good condition commanding extremely high prices.



October 18, 2012. October.

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