Happy Birthday Barbie! The toy, not her eponym, was introduced March 9, 1959. Barbie was created by Mattel, Inc., a Southern California company started by Elliott and Ruth Handler and named after their daughter, Barbara.
The 11" plastic doll was actually modeled after a risqué German gag gift for men based upon a cartoon character featured in the West German newspaper Bild Zeitung. This fact did not go unnoticed. Barbie's debut (and early market studies) was met with some concern by mothers feeling the toy had "too much of a figure".
Mattel found a way around this issue by advertising Barbie directly to children on the television. Mattel sponsored Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club program in 1955, becoming the first toy company to broadcast commercials directed to children.
In 1961 Mattel listened to consumers and brought out Barbie’s ultimate “accessory”—her boyfriend, Ken. (The Handlers’ children were named Barbara and Ken.) In 1963 Mattel added Barbie’s best friend, Midge, and in 1964 her little sister, Skipper. By 1968 Barbie had friends with darker skin, but it was not until 1980 that an African American Barbie doll was released.
Unlike baby dolls, Barbie did not teach nurturing. Outfitted with career paraphernalia, the doll was a model for financial self-sufficiency. (Barbie’s résumé includes, airline pilot, astronaut, doctor, Olympic athlete, and United States presidential candidate among others.) Nor was the doll defined by relationships of responsibility to men or family. Barbie has no parents or offspring. When in the early 1960s consumers clamoured for a Barbie-scale baby, Mattel did not make Barbie a mother but issued a “Barbie Baby-Sits” playset.
Although Barbie’s sales since the year 2000 have not risen as steeply as they did in the 1990s, they still amount to more than a billion dollars annually. Every second, Mattel calculates, two Barbies are sold somewhere in the world. Barbie got a shake up in 2016 by adding three new body shapes, but is still losing traction to Disney and competitor dolls.
Did you play with Barbies? Did you have a favorite? I remember we had a couple dolls, but my favorite was the shave and fun Ken... Weird, I know, but it was so cool to shave his beard.