Barbie dolls have been around for over 40 years, and they’re just as popular today as they were in 1959.
Brief History of Barbie Dolls
In the 1950s, there were two types of dolls in America: two-dimensional paper dolls and cuddly baby dolls. A college-educated housewife named Ruth Handler bought a German fashion doll and was inspired to change the face of toys forever. The doll, Lilli, was fashionable and bendable, with brushable hair.
Deeply inspired by Lilli, Ruth gained a patent for her own fashion doll in 1958. The first doll was developed in 1959. Ruth and her husband, co-founders of toy giant Mattel, named the doll after their daughter Barbara. The doll’s little known full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.
Despite an initially luke-warm reception, the Handlers continued marketing Barbie. The earliest dolls sold for $3. Within two years, orderings were pouring in so fast that the Handlers could not keep up.
Ruth had decided early on that Barbie would be a hopeful and optimistic figure for young girls, empowering them to dream and reach for the stars. Early Barbies were “social butterflies,” and spent their time attending parties and playing tennis.
Ken was introduced in 1961 and was named after Ruth’s son.
Ever-Evolving Career Woman
After her beginnings as a woman of leisure, Barbie went to college and embarked on numerous careers. In a quest to show girls that they can truly achieve anything, Barbie has worked as the following:
Diversity in Barbie Dolls
Mattel has aimed to promote tolerance and diversity in its dolls, and Barbie is an excellent example of that. There are Barbie dolls representing several countries of the world, including China, Korea, and Holland. Barbie has also been depicted in a wheelchair and with varying disabilities. Just as there are working Barbies, there are also Barbie dolls in more traditional stay-at-home roles. Despite ongoing criticism for her impossibly curvaceous figure, numerous studies indicate that playing with Barbies can actually be good for a girl’s self-esteem.
Today’s Popular Styles
Today, some of the most popular Barbie dolls are also stars of the small- and big-screen. From the Disney princesses to the beloved Barbie movies, television inspired Barbies fill the store shelves. Some favorites include:
Barbie dolls are a favorite item among collectors. While some focus on vintage dolls, others prefer the modern-day Barbies. Mattel releases collectible-quality dolls each year. The Holiday Barbies and Barbies of the World are particularly popular. Recent releases include:
Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. In a series of novels published by Random House in the 1960s, her parents’ names are given as George and Margaret Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin.
In the Random House novels, Barbie attended Willows High School, while in in the Generation Girl books published by Golden Books in 1999 she attended the fictional Manhattan International High School in New York City (based on the real-life Stuyvesant High School). She has an on-off romantic relationship with her boyfriend Ken (Ken Carson), who first appeared in 1961. A news release from Mattel in February 2004 announced that Barbie and Ken had decided to split up, but in February 2006 they were back together again.
Barbie has had over forty pets including cats and dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. She has owned a wide range of vehicles, including pink Corvette convertibles, trailers and jeeps. She also holds a pilot‘s license, and operates commercial airliners in addition to serving as a flight attendant. Barbie’s careers are designed to show that women can take on a variety of roles in life, and the doll has been sold with a wide range of titles including Miss Astronaut Barbie (1965), Doctor Barbie (1988) and Nascar Barbie (1998).
Mattel has created a range of companions for Barbie, including Hispanic Teresa, Midge, African American Christie and Steven (Christie’s boyfriend). Barbie’s siblings and cousins were also created including Skipper, Tutti (Todd’s twin sister), Todd (Tutti’s and Stacie’s twin brother), Stacie (Todd’s twin sister), Kelly, Krissy, Francie, and Jazzie.
Since bursting onto the toy market in a black and white swimsuit on March 9 1959, Barbie has certainly made her mark and is undoubtedly queen amongst dolls even after more than forty years of life.
Created by Ruth Handler and marketed by the Mattel toy company, Barbie has successfully moved with the times for almost five decades adopting changing fashions to maintain her place as the top toy doll brand. From nurse and olympic Barbie to president and married Barbie, she has an impressive resume with more than eighty careers and countless costume changes along the way.
As the American dream personified, Barbie has led a very privileged life that most celebrities would envy even today. With a wardrobe to die for, a fleet of cars and even a bespoke swimming pool just some of the trappings of world wide domination and fame. But many collectors are concerned that her days as queen of dolls may be about to end. In 2007, Barbie is still a big fish in a growing pond but now faces stiff competition from new, fresh and energetic doll brands like Bratz which have successfully diversified into multimedia and continue to sell well.
And it appears that Barbie is responding to her competitors with smaller versions of the traditional doll called Barbie Mini Kingdom. At just 6 inches tall this gentle change of direction may be the tip of the iceberg as Mattel moves to strengthen it’s position.
As she approaches her 50th birthday, Barbie remains an international phenomenon sold in over 40 countries and a sought after collectors item. As you might expect, Barbie is the best selling doll on Ebay with some rare early examples fetching as much as $10,000. So, for now, Barbie is certainly worthy of a place in any toy collectors catalog, but only time will tell if Barbie dolls can continue to move with the times and maintain their appeal with young girl’s on into the 21st century. Even so, I wouldn’t like to bet against a Barbie doll being at the top of many Christmas lists in twenty years time.
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