November 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ruth Handler

Born on this day in 1916, Handler grew up to create one of the best-selling toys on Earth: Barbie dolls.

Handler noticed that her daughter Barbara often liked to make her dolls play the role of adult women. Since most dolls were made in the form of babies, and virtually none looked like adults, Handler realized that there was a gap in the toy industry that could be filled by an adult-shaped doll.

Handler asked her husband, a co-founder of the Mattel plastics company, to make a plastic adult doll that girls could play with. However, neither Elliot Handler nor his business partner thought it would sell. When traveling in Europe, Handler saw a German Bild Lilli doll (actually meant as a gag gift for adults) and bought three. She worked on her idea and in 1959 introduced Barbie (named after her daughter) to the world.

Barbie became an instant success and now, more than 50 years later, continues to be a huge seller. Barbie's male counterpart is named Ken after Handler's son.

Bunches and bunches of Barbies!

Over the years, there have been hundreds of Barbie dolls (plus her friends) offered for sale. Collectors can spend a lot of money trying to accumulate all the Barbie products offered—it is estimated that many of the 100,000 + serious Barbie collectors spend more than $1000 per year on their collections! This Barbie collector website includes pictures of Barbie dressed as Cleopatra, Bob Mackie Circus Barbie, and the Mad Men Don Draper doll—among many, many others!

I found sources that say that more than a billion Barbie dolls have been sold, worldwide, and that today two Barbies are purchased, somewhere in the world, each and every second.

The first Barbie was labeled a fashion model, but the doll has had more than 80 careers since then, from astronaut to Spanish teacher, from paratrooper to ballerina, from U.S. President to princess. Wikipedia has a long list of her various careers! 

(By the way, there are also Wikipedia articles on the many companion dolls created for the Barbie universe. Did you know that, for a few years while split up with long-time boyfriend Ken, Barbie dated an Australian boogie-boarder named Blaine?  Some of the Wiki article lists personal details such as last names, schools attended, favorite colors, and hobbies!)

Barbie has also branched out in the pet-owning category. She has had more than 40 different pets, ranging from the likely (dog, cat) to the very unlikely (panda, lion cub).

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