On March 9, 1959, the first Barbie doll was displayed at the American Toy Fair in New York City. With eleven inches in height and blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945, created Barbie. Learn about the journey to the creation of Barbie below.
The first part of Ruth Handler’s life is a succession of challenges. She and her family were Polish Jews who had earlier immigrated to the United States. The youngest of 10 children, she could not attend university and initially found work as a secretary.
She married Elliot Handler in 1938, and together they traversed the ordeal of World War II, which affected all of the United States. Then came financial hardship for the young couple living in California with two children. She decided not to stay stagnant.
A new startup
She encouraged her husband to use his design skills to create a company manufacturing plastic objects. They founded Mattel in 1945, and success quickly arrived. The company started to soar in the toy industry, satisfying customers with unique toys.
Behind the scenes, Ruth’s creativity, energy, intelligence, willingness to take risks, and determination worked wonders. Although she didn’t take the title of president until 1967, her qualities made her the real leader of Mattel. She was a force to reckon with.
The birth of Barbie
Ruth noticed that her young daughter ignored her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women. She learned that there was an essential niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.
During a family trip to Switzerland in 1956, Ruth discovered a sex-symbol doll with a generous shape, Bild Lilli, based on a cartoon character created for the German tabloid “Bild.” Ruth decided to utilize the marketing potential of the doll.
Going all in
When Ruth Handler presented her new concept to the head of a significant American advertising agency, he stated, “It has no chance of succeeding. You’re joking”. Also, Mattel’s executive committee, which consisted of men except for Ruth, objected to her innovation.
Ruth’s innovation cost $500,000, which at the time was the entire financial value of Mattel. A skillful poker player, she was ready to risk her firm’s entire future on a single advertising campaign. Saying she was a driven woman would be an understatement.
Her refusal to give up
When the Barbie doll was presented at the New York International Toy Fair in 1959, all the big buyers, including the significant American store brands, were unimpressed and refused to buy any. Well, their lack of interest didn’t stop her.
While many entrepreneurs would have given up, Ruth Handler decided to sell her innovative doll directly to consumers. She launched a major publicity campaign, resulting in the worldwide success we know today. We’re glad she didn’t give up.