Barbie’s History

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.

However 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!

Following 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.

It 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.



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