A Story of Success
Women should know the name Ruth Handler. She was the woman who worked with her husband, Elliott, to build the toy giant, Mattel. The first business named ‘Mattel’ was actually a picture frame manufacturing business that Elliott Handler and his friend Harold Matson began. Eventually, they started to use the remaining wood to create furniture for dollhouses and that part of the business became more lucrative than making picture frames.
Inspiration for Barbie
Barbara gained her fame when she was inspired to create the Barbie doll. Her inspiration came from her daughter, who was becoming too old in her pre-teen years to play with baby dolls. Her daughter, Barbara, played with paper dolls and used her imagination making them seem more like older teens and adults. This imaginative play produced the idea of designing a plastic doll that resembled an adult. Mr. Handler did not think there was a marker for the doll, until the two of them saw a Bild Lilli doll, which is a German gag gift doll for adults. They purchased the doll and took it back to the United States.
German Doll Design
After returning home, Mrs. Handler used the Bild Lilli doll as the starting point. The original Bild Lilli was a popular cartoon character in the German tabloid ‘Bild’. Ruth Handler named the redesigned doll Barbie, referring to her daughter.
The first Barbie doll was displayed on March 12, 1959 at the New York Toy Fair. She was immediately successful and this took the Mattel company to an entirely new level. During the 1959, girls really only had one type of doll to choose: baby dolls with sweet faces, with the idea to prepare them for motherhood. Once Barbie became a household name, the Handlers designed friends for Barbie. When the Handlers designed Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend, they named the doll after their son, Ken. By the time of Mrs. Handler’s death in 2002, there have been over 150 billion Barbie dolls sold in approximately 150 countries all over the world.
Scandal at Mattel
Mrs. Handler and her husband ran Mattel for 30 years. The couple resigned from the company in 1975. The couple was involved in a financial scandal that forced the Handlers to step away from the company that they built from the ground up. Many people believe that the Handlers had nothing to do with the scandal, which kept her away from Mattel for 20 years.
Barbie and the Women’s Movement
The Barbie doll has also been a scandalous toy. In the 1970s, many women thought the doll gave girls an unrealistic idea of what they should look like and how they should behave. Barbie’s figure is not a figure that many women, if any could actually have. Women believed that Barbie would make girls have problems with low self-esteem, eating disorders, and depression. Mrs. Handler thought differently. While speaking with The New York Times, Mrs. Handler said, “Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future.” She thought the doll represented a young girl’s idea of what a 16 or 17 year old might look like. Since she was originally designed to be a fashion doll, it is only appropriate that she was designed to look the way she did. In 1971, Mrs. Handler developed breast cancer and had a mastectomy. This led to her developing a company that manufactured comfortable prosthesis for women like her. In 1994, Mattel brought her back into the company. Sadly, in 2002, she passed away, but she left a wonderful legacy in her wake.