Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945.
After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an essential niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.
Barbie’s appearance was modeled after a doll named Lilli, based on a German comic strip character. Originally marketed as a racy gag gift to adult men in tobacco shops, the Lilli doll later became extremely popular with children. Mattel bought the rights to Lilli and made its own version, which Handler named after her daughter, Barbara.
With its sponsorship of the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV program in 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials to children. They used this medium to promote their new toy, and by 1961, the enormous consumer demand for the doll led Mattel to release a boyfriend for Barbie. Handler named him Ken, after her son. Barbie’s best friend, Midge, came out in 1963; her little sister, Skipper, debuted the following year.
Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales and has been a positive role model for little girls, reflecting the times, but always staying true to her true self. And she’s still got that moxy. Over the years, she has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even U.S. presidential candidate.
Barbie has done a lot since she hit the scene in 1959 and she’s maintained her status as a childhood favorite for generations. Watch this classic commercial and share your Barbie memories with us.