Guest Author - Carol Taller
The Barbie Doll made her debut on March 9, 1959. She was invented by Ruth Handler, and named after her daughter Barbara. Barbie was 11 ˝ inches tall and had a moving head, arms and legs. Her shape was quite impressive, since her real life adult counterpart would measure an improbable 36-18-38. When she was first created, blonde Barbies outnumbered brunette Barbies two to one.
Mattel turned down Handler when she first proposed the concept of Barbie to them. The executives did not believe that a three dimensional adult female doll would appeal to the children’s market. She then went to Europe and returned with a Lilli doll and remodeled it. She hired a designer to make realistic clothes for her and she re-approached Mattel. Barbie’s first year on the market sold 351,000 dolls at $3 each. It took Mattel a few years to catch up with the unexpected volume of orders.
With Barbie’s proven success, Mattel added several new friends to the Barbie line. Ken, named after Handler’s son, Midge, Skipper, and Christie. In 1995 Barbie was joined with a little sister, Kelly, and in 1997 a friend in a wheel chair named Share a Smile Becky was added.
The Barbie Doll “mold” did not change much throughout history. It remained 11 ˝ inches with varying moving part. Bendable legs and closing eyes were added, but the vast changes were mostly made to her outfits and her cultural identity.
Barbie’s skin tones changed as well as hair color and face shapes. In 1980 Mattel’s Barbie line desegregated rapidly. Black Barbie and Hispanic Barbie were introduced, and then an international line was introduced with Italian Barbie, Parisian Barbie, and Royal UK Barbie.
Playing with Barbie became about her accessories. Barbie needed changes of clothing, shoes, and handbags for her outfits. She had a house and a car.
Designer clothing set off the trend of collectible Barbies and adults collected the doll for resale value. Bob Mackie designed some outfits, and in 1992 Barbie got a new “Mackie Face” that was used on many collectible Barbie dolls.
Today, girls can use computer software that is available to design and personalize their Barbies. There is also a broad array of products such as home furnishings, clothing, and books for girls to create and play with.
Over one billion Barbie Dolls have sold since it's introduction in 1959, making the Barbie doll the most successful product line in toy history.