Barbie: History of
a Living Doll
Did you know the
original Barbie was named for a real young lady
from California named Barbara Handler? It's true!
Barbie, the teen fashion doll that debuted in 1959 was
created by Barbara's mom, Ruth Handler, who named the
doll after her daughter and the rest is doll history.
It all started in the late 1950s, when Ruth
Handler noticed that her young daughter, Barbara, and
her friends really liked to play with adult dolls
rather than the common baby dolls that were common at
the time. These adult dolls weren't three-dimensional,
they were all made out of cardboard or paper, so Ruth
began to design a three-dimensional adult doll that
would make her daughter and her friends happy.
Handler and her husband Elliot had created the
Mattel Toy Company in their garage, but by the late
50s it had grown to include a group of ad executives
who quickly vetoed Ruth's initial idea and design.
They thought the doll would be too expensive to
produce and had little long-term appeal. Now we know
how wrong they were!
Undaunted, Ruth continued with her idea. She
traveled to Europe and when she returned she brought a
German doll named "Lilli" with her. Redesigned, Lilli
became Barbie, and Ruth continued to pester the Mattel
executives until they agreed to produce the doll. The
original patent date is 1958. Ruth even hired a
fashion designer, Charlotte Johnson, to create a
fashionable wardrobe for the doll.
Barbie, with her distinctive blonde ponytail
and black and white striped stretch bathing suit made
her debut at the 1959 American Toy Fair in New York
City, and took the toy world by storm. The dolls
literally flew off the shelves. Mattel set a toy
selling record the first year Barbie debuted, selling
351, 000 dolls the first year. In ten short years,
parents would spend $500 million on Barbie products
for their clamoring youngsters.
Barbie was the first fashion doll, and she
spawned many spin-offs, but she and her "family" of
dolls are simply the most popular in history. Barbie
gets at least 100 new clothing designs every year, and
because they produce so many Barbie outfits each year,
Mattel has become the biggest garment manufacturer in
Today, Barbie has come a long way from that
fashion doll who debuted in 1959. She has sisters, a
boyfriend, and represents nearly 100 different
nationalities. However, collectors prize the original
Barbie and her 50s wardrobe above all else. Barbie and
her clothing are one of the most popular collectibles
in the world today, and a mint-condition original
Barbie can sell as high as $10,000. So, check the
attic, the basement, and the storage boxes for your
old Barbie treasures. They could be more valuable than
you think, and even if they aren't, they'll bring back
lots of fond fashion memories!
Some Barbie Trivia:
- The first Barbie
- Today, more than 1 billion Barbie's have been
- The Ken doll was named for Ruth and Elliot
- At first, Barbie was a teenaged fashion model,
but she's had over 80 careers since then, from
astronaut to a medic in Desert Storm.
- Barbie's full name is "Barbie Millicent
- Barbie didn't have a belly button until 2000.
- Two Barbies are sold every second around the
- There's an official Barbie collectors site at:
Steele-Carlin is a freelance writer and researcher in
Reno, Nevada. Her work has appeared in numerous
national publications including American Profile,
Highways, Pool & Spa, and many more.