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February 4, 2013


Fifty-four years ago today, on February 4, 1959, the first Barbie doll was introduced by the Mattel Company.  And, a legend marketing empire was born.

Retailing for $3.00, the original Barbie was clothed in a strapless, black and white striped swimsuit.  Her nails and lipstick were bright red and she was available as a blonde
or as a brunette.  Over 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold in
the first year of production.

'How did this Mega-Marketing Phenomenon begin?' you ask.
In the mid-1950s, Ruth Handler, wife of Elliot Handler, a co-founder of the Mattel Toy Company, urged her husband to manufacture a more adult-appearing doll for
pre-teen girls.  Neither Mr. Handler nor any of the other Mattel directors were
interested in the idea.  

The original Bild Lilli
While traveling in Germany in 1956, the Handlers came across an adult-figured doll called Bild Lilli.  Immediately realizing that this was the type of doll that she had urged
her husband to produce, Ruth bought several Bild Lillis.  

She gave one to her daughter, Barbara, and turned the others over to the design engineers at Mattel.  After a
little tweaking, the doll was renamed Barbie (for Ruth's daughter!) and the rest is history.  

What happened to Bild Lilli?  Well, in 1964, Mattel acquired the rights to her and production was stopped.


Barbie was marketed as a 16 year old "Teen-age Fashion Model" but she looked a lot older than a teenager, didn't she?  Maybe it was the high heels, eye-liner, and pearls.  

Barbie's appearance has morphed over the years but the most significant change was in 1971 when her eyes were adjusted to look forward rather than sideways.  

In order for Barbie to appear sophisticated, Mattel hired fashion designer Charlotte Johnson to create her impressive wardrobe.  Over the years many haute couturiers have designed for Barbie including Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, Diane von Furstenberg, and Christian Louboutin.



Not only were Barbie's fashions beautiful, they were educational - I had
never heard of jodhpurs until I saw that Barbie wore them riding!


Mattel executives quickly realized that little consumers would need something in which to
                                                     hang Barbie's extensive wardrobe.
Viole - the doll case and trunk were introduced:


The black and white double-breasted dress, below, with matching
wide brim hat was the first outfit my mother bought for my Barbie.

Not only did Mattel produce the world's most recognized doll,
they made Barbie the first toy to be marketed exclusively
through a national television campaign.  Radical stuff in 1960.


In addition to using the burgeoning television industry for advertising, Mattel
was one of the first major manufacturers to partner with other brands such as
McCall's, American Airlines, and Pan Am.


As the booming Barbie tsunami swept the globe the Mattel machine worked
overtime, producing a wide range of accessories and 'toys' for the world's most
popular doll - cars, houses, furniture, trailers, bicycles, swimming pools - you
name it and Barbie sold it. 


                              Looking back, it makes me sad that Barbie's
                              miniature scales were stuck at 110 pounds.

Here are some random facts about Barbie that many of you might not know:

o Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts and she's from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin.  In the first Random House novels that were published about her, Barbie attended Willows High School but, in later Golden Books novels, she attended the fictional Manhattan International High School in New York City. 

o  Although Barbie went on sale on Feb. 4, 1959, she made her official debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York City on March 9, 1959 - which is also her birthday.

o  Barbie's parents are George Roberts and Margaret Rawlins Roberts.  He is an engineer and she is a homemaker.  Barbie's siblings include Skipper, twins Tutti and Todd (discontinued in 1971), and Kelly (renamed Stacie and later Chelsea).  An infant sister, Krissy, was produced between 1999 and 2001.

o  Ken Carson, the All-American boyfriend, was introduced in 1960. The second character added to the Barbie line, he was named after the Handler's son, Ken.

o  Manufactured to a scale of 1/6, in real life Barbie would be 5'9" and, at 110 pounds, would be considered severely underweight.

Career Girl Barbie,
o  Barbie has had 126 careers over the last 50+ years including being a pilot, stewardess, teacher, astronaut, doctor, nurse, veterinarian, chef, NASCAR driver, rancher, farmer, secretary, babysitter, dentist, ballerina, engineer, Olympic gymnast, and Major League baseball player.  You can view a complete list of Barbie careers here.

o  Midge Hadley (1963) was Barbie's first female friend.  She married Allan/Alan Sherwood in 1991.

o  Over 40 dolls from many different countries have been introduced as Barbie's friends including Stacey (a "British chum" in 1968), Christie, P.J., Jamie, Steffie, Cara, and Whitney.

o  Barbie has been in 2 rock bands: The Rockers (1986-87) with friends DeeDee, Diva, and Dana; and The Sensations (1988) with Bopsy, Becky, and Belinda.

o  Since her introduction in 1988, Teresa Rivera has been marketed as Barbie's best friend.  She's been labeled Island Fun Teresa, Beach Blast Teresa, Wet 'N Wild Teresa, and Rollerblade Teresa.  

Barbie has caused quite a bit of controversy among adults who view her as an unrealistic role model for young girls.

But, with over billion Barbie sales in over 150 countries since 1959, most young girls just think that she's beautiful and fun to dress up.

P.S.  A $3.00 vintage Barbie in its original box recently sold at auction for $17,000.   Wish I had kept mine.


  1. I just missed the Barbie craze. I was 11 when she was born and wasn't interested in dolls any longer. My daughter had one, but it was never a favorite with her.

    My daughter works at a design thinking firm in San Francisco and every year they put on an incredible company party in February. Last year, the theme was Ken and Barbie and everyone came dressed in character. My daughter chose a Barbie outfit and then duplicated it for herself. She said the theme was a success with both men and women.

    thanks for the fun Barbie facts.

    1. What a clever party idea! I was 5 years old when Barbie was introduced to the unsuspecting public and fell (hook, line and sinker) for the 'Craze'. Couldn't wait until Saturdays when I received my allowance so that I could go downtown to the department store and shop for Barbie accessories. Thank goodness my brother had GI Joe. He was often forced to play Barbies if my bff wasn't available! -- Jan

  2. We had sindie in the uk but I preferrred barbie as she was so much more glamorous!
    I have a crochet book of barbie outfits!
    Thanks for this lovely post
    daisy j x

    1. My grandmother crocheted several capes and caps for my Barbies. Looking back, the tiny creations but have been so taxing for her but she never complained. Great memories! -- Jan

  3. A great post! The dolls of that time were more glamorous.

  4. Enjoyed your post. I collect barbies but I don't have any of the old ones since I started collecting in the 8o's. I do like the ones that have beautiful dresses and a lot of bling...Nice post. Have a great day! Jennifer

  5. I really enjoyed reading all this history about Barbie, even though I was 12 when she came out and not interested. My sister loved her Barbie doll, but the clothes she had for Barbie in her carrying case were all made by our Mom.

  6. I was a total Barbie fiend when I was little. All I wanted for birthdays and Christmases between the ages of 5 and 12 were Barbie stuff. Then I discovered boys... ;)