Barbie is one of the most iconic and recognizable toys in the world. It’s hard to imagine a world without Barbie, but few people know the story of the woman who created her. Ruth Handler, the founder of Mattel Inc., was a true trailblazer who revolutionized the toy industry and inspired generations of girls to dream big and achieve their goals. This article will delve into Ruth Handler’s life, from her early years to her journey as an entrepreneur, and explore how she created Barbie, one of the most beloved toys of all time.
Early Life and Career
Ruth Handler was born in Denver, Colorado on November 4, 1916. She was the youngest of ten children in a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants. Her parents, Jacob, and Ida Moskowicz owned a woodworking business, and Ruth grew up helping them in the shop. Ruth was always interested in design and creativity. After completing her high school education, she attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where she studied industrial design.
After college, Ruth worked as a designer for various companies, including Paramount Pictures and Western Costume Company. In 1945, she and her husband, Elliot Handler, founded Mattel Creations, a company that produced picture frames and dollhouse furniture made from scraps of wood. They eventually shifted their focus to toys, and in 1955, Ruth had an idea that would change the toy industry forever.
Founding Mattel and Creating Barbie
Ruth noticed that her daughter, Barbara, played with paper dolls that had adult features and outfits, rather than childlike ones. This inspired Ruth to create a three-dimensional doll that had the same features. She called it Barbie, after her daughter, and the doll debuted at the American International Toy Fair in 1959.
The initial response to Barbie was mixed. Many critics labeled it as inappropriate and even obscene. However, Ruth persisted, and soon Barbie became a massive success, with millions of dolls sold worldwide. Barbie was not just a toy but also a symbol of women’s empowerment. Ruth believed that playing with Barbie would inspire girls to dream big, challenge gender roles, and achieve their goals.
The initial response to Barbie wasn’t great
Ruth faced numerous challenges in her journey to create Barbie. She had to overcome initial skepticism and criticism about the doll’s appearance and appropriateness. She also had to navigate the male-dominated toy industry and compete with established companies such as Hasbro and Mattel’s rival, Ideal Toy Company.
However, Ruth’s determination and perseverance paid off, and Barbie became a cultural icon, with an extensive line of accessories, clothing, and playsets. The Barbie brand expanded to include diverse dolls and accessories that reflect the world we live in today. Ruth’s vision for Barbie was to inspire girls to dream big and achieve their goals, and Barbie has done just that, with generations of girls and women looking up to the iconic doll as a role model.
Expansion and Growth of the Barbie
Despite the controversy, Barbie continued to sell well, and Ruth and Elliot expanded the brand by creating new dolls and accessories. They introduced Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend, in 1961, and a variety of other dolls in the years that followed. They also opened the first Barbie-themed store in 1975, and Barbie became a global phenomenon.
Ruth’s innovative marketing strategies and her willingness to take risks paid off. She was one of the first toy executives to advertise on television, and she even created a Barbie cartoon series in the 1980s. Today, Barbie is a cultural icon, with millions of fans around the world.
Ruth Handler’s Legacy
Ruth Handler was more than just the creator of Barbie. She was a pioneer in the toy industry, breaking down barriers and defying gender roles. She believed that girls deserved toys that encouraged them to dream big and that they could achieve anything they set their minds to.
Ruth passed away on April 27, 2002, but her legacy continues through the Ruth Handler Foundation, which supports programs that empower girls and women to reach their full potential. In 2018, Ruth Handler was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her contributions to the toy industry and women’s empowerment.
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