Ruth Handler & Fun Facts about her Barbie Doll


Today is National Barbie Day! To celebrate I thought we would look at the creator of Barbie and some fun facts about Barbie. Now growing up my mother was very against Barbie dolls. My sisters were not allowed to have any. I however inherited some from family friends and for some reason my mother allowed it. I know she like many parents were concerned with the measurements and body image. What I discovered with my research couldn't be farther from the truth. Stay tuned for a fun ride as well as a book round-up for you to teach your kids about Ruth Handler and the history of Barbie. 

Ruth Handler

Ruth Handler and Her Barbie Dolls by Rüfət Əlizadə, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ruth Marianna Mosko was born on November 4, 1916, in Denver, Colorado. Her parents were Jacob and Ida Mosko. Ruth was the youngest of ten children. Jacob immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1907, and Ida came with their children in 1909. They were Jewish. When Ruth was only six months-old, Ida needed to have surgery. Ruth was sent to go live with her oldest sister, Sarah, and her husband, Louie. This was meant to be a temporary situation, but Ida was weak from the surgery and Sarah continued to help with the baby. Ruth did not return to live at her parents' house. Louie owned a drugstore, and Ruth began working in it at age 10. Ruth was a self-proclaimed tomboy.  When Ruth was 19, she moved to Hollywood and worked as a stenographer at Paramount Studios. She had been told by a friend that it was impossible to get a job there and that only pushed her more to get it.  Her high school boyfriend, Elliot Handler, came to visit her in Hollywood. He stayed there for a year and then the two of them returned to Denver together. Ruth worked as a secretary for her brother, Joe. In 1938, Ruth and Elliot got married and moved back to California. 

In 1941, their daughter Barbara was born. She had already left her job at Paramount (again). She and Elliot started a business making products out of plastic. The business was successful by the time they had their son, Kenneth, in 1944. They sold their business and began making picture frames. Elliot was in charge of design and production and Ruth worked on marketing. In 1945, Elliot's friend Harold "Matt" Matson started a company with the Handlers. They named the company Mattel as a combination of Matt and Elliot. They made dollhouse furniture and other toys. After a few years Matson left the company. The Handlers hired employees, opened offices, and contracted with factories to manufacturer the toys. In 1955 Mattel Company was advertising their toys on television and was The Mickey Mouse Club's exclusive sponsor. 

In the 1950s, all the dolls were baby dolls or toddler dolls or collector dolls that had grown up features with baby faces. Ruth noticed that her daughter, Barbara, and her friends didn't play with their dolls but would play with their paper dolls. They would act out stories with their paper dolls which Ruth saw as imagining their futures. She saw this as such an important part of growing up and wanted them to have something better than paper dolls to play this with. She envisioned plastic grown-up dolls with modern fashions for the girls. 

In 1956 the Handlers took a family trip to Europe. There Ruth saw the Lilli doll. The Lilli doll was based off a popular cartoon character that was created for a newspaper in Hamburg, Germany. They were hand painted and very fragile. She was similar to what Ruth had envisioned for her doll. She bought one for Barbara and two for the designers at Mattel. The staff members at Mattel did not think an adult looking doll would sell and were not eager to create one, but Ruth insisted.

Barbie in 1959 Source: Mattel, Inc.

Barbie Teenage Fashion Model premiered at the American International Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, in New York City. Toy buyers were skeptical though. Ruth pushed and made a television commercial featuring Barbie, and she became an instant success. They could not keep up with the demand for Barbie dolls. More than 350,000 Barbie dolls sold within one year. She was already the best-selling doll of all times. She was designed to look like the popular women of the time, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. She was available as a blonde or a brunette. 

Ruth moved up the hierarchy of Mattel. She moved from executive vice president to president to co-chairman of the board of directors. In the 1960s it was basically unheard of for a woman to have these titles. She shared once about a time where she was the keynote speaker at a meeting a brokerage company was holding for the investment community. She didn't understand why the program planners were escorting her in through and alley and kitchen of the club. She later found out that the club didn't allow women. Ruth would hold other positions like director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and guest professor at UCLA. She also won many awards like Outstanding Business Woman Award, National Association of Accountants 1961, Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year in Business in 1968.

Barbie & Ken 1960s Source: Mattel, Inc.

Over the decades Ruth changed Barbie's fashions and image to stay up with the times. They added friends for Barbie and introduced the Ken doll in 1961. In the 1960s Barbie's fashions were modeled after Jackie Kennedy's. In the 1971, Malibu Barbie was born. In the 1980s Barbie became a rock star with her own band, Barbie and the Rockers. 

Malibu Barbie 1971 Source: Mattel, Inc.

Some people feared that Barbie showed limited career choices for girls. Ruth took care of that by adding different careers for Barbie. Ruth wanted Barbie to be a positive and fun role model for girls. Some of the careers include an actress, a surgeon, a United Airlines flight attendant, Olympic athlete, downhill skier, and figure skater. In the 1980s careers like business executive, doctor and army officer were added. In the 1990s jobs like engineer, firefighter, and NASCAR driver were added. Today she has been a paleontologist, architect, news anchor and so much more! 

In 1967 Ruth Handler was president of Mattel. They made many other toys besides Barbie including Chatty Cathy and Hot Wheels cars. Mattel was the world's leading toy manufacturer. Today it takes a team of more than 100 people to design a new look for Barbie. They create an inspiration board for her new look with pictures showing clothing, hairstyles, make-up and more. Mattel's offices in Hong Kong determine the price of the doll and then the design is sent to a factory to manufacture the doll. The product from idea to store takes anywhere between 3 to 18 months. 

In 1970 Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery that removed her breasts. She had a hard time adjusting to her new appearance and wished there was a product to help her appear more like her old self. In 1975 Ruth and Elliot left Mattel. In 1976 Ruth started a new business called Nearly Me where she manufactured silicone breast prosthesis. It is the product she longed for sine her surgery and helped many female cancer survivors feel more confident. In 1991 she sold her company to Spenco Medical Corporation. Ruth died on April 27, 2002. Elliot died on July 21, 2011. 

Fun Facts About Barbie:

  1. Barbie's real name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. She was named after the Handlers' daughter, Barbara. Barbara Handler does not like to be called Barbie. 
  2. Ruth Handler claimed she never played with dolls.
  3. According to Mattel, March 9, 1959, is Barbie's birthday.
  4. Barbie is from the fictional town Willows, Wisconsin.
  5. The first Barbie doll wore a black-and-white striped one-piece swimsuit, sunglasses and sandals and was available as a blonde or a brunette. Her hair was styled in a ponytail.
  6. The Ken doll's full name is Ken Carson and was named after the Handlers' son, Kenneth. The original Ken doll premiered on March 11, 1961, and was shirtless. He wore red swim trunks and sandals. The next year they added a shirt that he wore open.
  7. Astronaut Barbie 1965 Source: Mattel, Inc.
  8. Astronaut Barbie went into space four years before the first real astronauts walked on the moon in 1969. 

  9. There is a Barbie doll in the official "America's Time Capsule" that was buried during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976.
  10. Since 1959 Barbie has had more than 500 makeovers and has had over 200 careers.
  11. In 2002, Barbara Handler added Barbie's footprints and handprints to California's Hollywood Walk of Fame. 
  12. More than 1 billion Barbie dolls have been sold since 1959. 
  13. Barbie first ran for president in 1992. She has run five more times since then. 
  14. Ken and Barbie broke up on Valentine's Day 2004. They got back together on Valentine's Day 2011. 
  15. Barbie's first pet horse was named Dancer. She has had 14 horses and three ponies. She has had more than 40 pets throughout the years.
  16. Christie 1969 Source: Mattel, Inc.

  17. Barbie has represented more than 40 nationalities. The first Black Barbie doll was her friend Christie who appeared in 1968.

  18. Totally Hair Barbie 1992 Source: Mattel, Inc.
    1. The best-selling Barbie was Totally Hair Barbie in 1992.

    Midge, Barbie's Best Friend 1963 Source: Mattel, Inc. 

  19. Barbie has a BFF named Midge. They have been best friends since 1963. 
  20. Barbie was co-designed by Jack Ryan, a designer at Mattel. However, his previous job was designing missile systems for the government. In 1980 Ryan sued Mattel over the rights to Barbie. He settled out of court. He always claimed it was his idea. 
  21. Greiner & Hauser, the company that manufactured the Lilli doll, sued Mattel for copying parts of their doll. In 1963 it was settled out of court. A year later Mattel bought the rights to the Lilli doll. 
  22. The original Barbie had pursed lips. It was not until the Malibu Barbie that she had a smile on her face.
  23. In 2013 Mattel announced Barbie would be selling her Malibu dreamhouse for $25 million. I wonder what it would sell for in today's market. LOL
  24. A Barbie doll is sold every three seconds!
  25. Bettina Dorfman, of Germany, has the largest Barbie collection with 15,000 dolls. 
  26. The original Barbie sold for $3 or $2.99. The Stefano Canturi Barbie was auctioned off for over $300,000. Her necklace was made with a real diamond. The auction was for breast cancer research. 
  27. A Barbie Dreamhouse is sold every two minutes. 
  28. Barbie is sold in 150 countries. She is the most diverse fashion doll. 

South African Barbie Source: Mattel, Inc.

Barbie has apparently had her own controversies as well. Check out this video from USA Today.

2008 Japanese Barbie Source: Mattel, Inc.

Now to teach kids about the amazing Ruth Handler, I put together a round-up of children's books. The first two books in the first row and the middle one in the bottom row are all sources for my post! The other three I could not get my hands on for this post.