2-13-15-Ruth Handler 2-15-15-Original Barbie

Ruth Handler and Barbie dolls                                            The original Barbie

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel Toys realized that daughter Barbara and her friends like to imagine themselves as grown women when they played with paper dolls. Then she realized that while they had baby dolls, there were no grown-up or teenage-style dolls for girls. Handler pursued the idea of a teen doll for girls despite the skeptical comments from her husband Elliot Handler.

Three years later, in 1959, Ruth Handler introduced Barbie Millicent Roberts at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie was 11.5 inches tall and wore a striped swimsuit. She could be purchased as a blonde or brunette for $3.

There was immediate controversy over Barbie’s voluptuous and humanly impossible figure, but the critics could not argue with success. In the first year of production 300,000 Barbie dolls were sold. Over the years, more than 70 fashion designers made clothes for Mattel, using over 105 million yards of fabric. The original clothes sets sold for $1 to $5, depending on the number of accessories.

Mattel introduced Barbie’s boyfriend Ken in 1961. He was named after Handler’s son. That same year girls could also buy a redheaded Barbie. Barbie’s African American girlfriend, Christie, was introduced in 1969; however African American and Hispanic Barbies were not manufactured until 1980.

Mattel’s research indicates that today 90% of American girls ages 3-10 own a Barbie. While the exact number of dolls sold is not available, the number is in the billions.

To commemorate the City of Troy’s 60th Anniversary in 2015, we will publish a different story each day that highlights a person, discovery, or event that occurred locally, regionally, nationally, or even globally between 1955 and 2015 and that helped shape our lives and our community. We will try to post stories on important anniversary dates, but we also realize that dates are less critical than content and context. We will include the facts related to controversial stories, allowing our readers to form their own opinions. We invite you to read and comment on the stories. Your suggestions for topics are also welcome and can be posted on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TroyHistoricVillage. You can also email stories or ideas to the 365 Story Editor at ed@thvmail.org.

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