Chances are pretty good that you’re familiar with Barbie dolls. These famous toys have been popular for generations, and are still around. Have you ever learned the history behind Barbie though? If you’re curious about it, then keep reading to learn something about it.

Barbie History

Barbie is a line of fashion dolls. They’re manufactured by Mattel, Inc., an American toy company. They were launched in March of 1959. Ruth Handler, an American businesswoman, is credited as having been the creative force behind this doll. Her reported inspiration was a German doll known as Bild Lilli.

There is an entire brand of various Mattel dolls and many accessories revolving around the Barbie figurehead. This includes collectible dolls and other family members. This franchise has been a crucial component of the broader toy fashion doll market going back more than five decades. Despite the popularity, or maybe even because of it, it’s been subjected to numerous lawsuits and controversies, frequently incorporating parodies of both the doll as well as her lifestyle.

At the time of writing, Mattel had sold more than a billion units of Barbie dolls. That all adds up to this line being both the biggest one for the company as well as the most profitable. On the other hand, the sales of them have sharply declined since 2014. This doll changed the toy business in many affluent communities around the world by turning into a vehicle for selling related merchandise like clothes, accessories, and other dolls that were fictional friends of Barbie. She’s had a tremendous impact on the social values in many places by conveying the characteristics often associated with female independence, as well as her many accessories. She’s helped idealize an upscale lifestyle that is shared with other affluent friends. In 1987, the Barbie franchise grew into a media franchise that included video games, music, television specials, and even animated films.

Ruth Handler, Barbie’s Inventor

The initial Barbie dolls came out in blonde and brunette forms in March of 1959. Ruth Handler had watched her own daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls, noticing that she frequently liked giving them very adult roles. At this time, the majority of kid’s toy dolls were more representations of babies or infants. Handler realized that there might be a market gap, and so she suggested the concept of a full-bodied adult doll to Elliot, her husband, who happened to be one of the co-founders of Mattel. He wasn’t enthusiastic about this idea, no were the directors of Mattel.

Ruth traveled to Europe in 1956 with her kids Barbara and Kenneth. It was then that she came across Bild Lilli, a toy doll in Germany. This was an adult-figured toy that mirrored what she had in mind, and so she bought three of them. She gifted one of them to her daughter, taking the other two back home to Mattel. The Lilli doll itself was based on a very popular comic strip character that Reinhard Beuthin drew for Bild, a newspaper. Lilli was known as a working girl and blonde bombshell. She knew the things in life that she wanted, and she wasn’t above using the men in her life to get them. The German market first saw Lilli dolls sold in 1955. It was initially sold only to adults, but it got popular with kids who liked dressing them up in various outfits that were sold separately.

After getting back to the United States, Ruth Handler had the doll redesigned. Engineer Jack Ryan helped out with this. The doll was renamed Barbie, in honor of her daughter Barbara. The Barbie doll made her formal debut in New York at the American International Toy Fair. This happened on March 9th, 1959. To this day, this date is used as the official birthday of Barbie.

Several hundred thousand dolls were sold the first year, and since then, many more versions have come out. After some long-running outcry, diversity started showing up in the line, as did Ken dolls who were male. Critics of the doll have long asserted that Barbie dolls lead to young girls and teens having body image issues however, striving too much to be thin.

Now that you’ve read this article, you some, but not all, about the fascinating history behind this popular and sometimes polarizing toy.