The History of Barbie
She’s a successful businesswoman, a member of a rock band and a Women’s World Cup Soccer player. Who is she? That’s right, it’s Barbie doll! It might be hard to believe, but the Barbie Doll started out as just a regular person, who over time adopted so many amazing traits and professions. The first ‘Barbie’, was none other than Barbara Handler, the daughter of Ruth and Elliot Handler.
In the 1950’s toys were still expensive or non-existent, and little kids were stuck playing with whatever make shift toys they could think of. When Handler saw that her daughter Barbara and her girlfriends liked playing with adult female dolls more than with baby dolls, an idea was born. Handler decided that it was important for little girls to imagine what they might be and look like when they would grow up, and that this could be even more important than playing with toys that showed them what they were like right now.
Unfortunately, all the adult dolls at that time were made of paper or cardboard, and Handler decided to create a three-dimensional adult female doll, one that would look lifelike enough to serve as an inspiration for her daughter’s dreams and aspirations. When the doll was complete, Handler took the developed toy to advertising executives at Mattel Corporation, the company that she and her husband Elliot had founded from their garage just a few years earlier. But because the advertising committee was composed of all males, they rejected the idea, not seeing the market potential that it could have, and not realizing how effective it would be for little girls everywhere.
This prompted Handler to travel to Europe and acquire what is called a “Lilli” doll, which was modeled after a character in a German comic strip. Handler spent some time designing a doll similar to Lilli, and even hired a designer to make realistic doll clothes. The end result, of course, was the Barbie doll, which she named in honour of her young daughter that had pushed her onto this path. The Barbie doll resembled the average woman as Handler saw her, and she immediately took it back to the advertising committee.
Mattel finally agreed to back Handler’s efforts; and the Barbie doll debuted at the American Toy Fair in New York City in 1959. Girls went crazy for the doll, and sales skyrocketed within its first year on the marker. At this time, dolls were being sold for about three dollars each, and they managed to make over three hundred thousand sales. Since then, Barbie has seen a steady consistency of popularity, and in modern times, with over one billion Barbie’s sold worldwide, this toy is the most successful line in the history of the toy industry. And all that for a toy made in a garage!
The first Barbie doll had a typical ponytail hairstyle, black and white zebra-striped bathing suit, open-toed shoes, sunglasses and earrings. Mattel also released a line of fashion accessories such as purses, extra clothes, and so on. While buyers on the market were not impressed with this new toy, the main target, little girls, were going absolutely crazy for it, and so many orders were placed that it took Mattel several years to catch up with the immense demand that this doll had spurred.
The Barbie doll was introduced as a teenage fashion model, but in the years that followed she has taken on many aspirational roles. She has tackled almost every conceivable profession, including dentist, doctor, firefighter, astronaut, paleontologist—even Presidential candidate.
In an effort to expand the line for profit, Mattel has introduced many friends and family for Barbie over the years. In 1961, the Ken doll was released, named after the Handler’s son. In 1963, they released Midge, Skipper in 1965, and in 1968, a whole line of African-American dolls was released. In 1995, Baby sister Kelly was released, and in 1997, Barbie’s friend in a wheelchair, Share a Smile Becky. With each year new dolls are created and released worldwide, to appeal to as many ethnicities and cultures as possible.
The world of the Barbie doll is so much more than just dolls and accessories. Barbie keeps up with 2017 by letting girls use computers and smartphone software to personalize how their Barbie doll looks, plays, creates, and so on, using what is called Barbie software. This is a sign of Mattel catering to the times, and putting even more control over Barbie in the hands of children. The Barbie line has also created a huge selection of products, ranging from books, apparel, food, home furnishings, and even some branded electronics.
Much like any product, Barbie has faced criticism from many groups of people. Feminists often criticize Barbie for reinforcing sexism, representing a woman with low intelligence and an impossible body. Mattel has worked to resolve this issue, by tweaking the body shape of the Barbie, and by creating professions for the Barbie that any girl would be happy to be involved in.
Despite such criticisms, playing with Barbie dolls seems as a rule to enhance girls’ self-image and expand their sense of their potential rather than the opposite. Over the years, this has only become truer, and Barbie continues to expand her horizons. She has tackled almost every conceivable profession, including doctor, dentist, firefighter, police officer, athlete, a business owner, and many more. Barbie has now worked as an astronaut, a UN volunteer, paleontologist, — even Presidential candidate. Mattel listens to recommendations from children everywhere, adding new professions and roles for the Barbie when required. Regardless of the criticism she may face, Barbie is the most sought after doll of the 20th Century, and will continue to see massive popularity with its target audience well into the future.
Pop! Carries the newest Barbie Merchandise for our corporate clients in our Toy Catalogue. Click here to check it out.