Hi, Barbie! The History of The Most Popular Doll

It's only been a little over a month since the release of the Barbie movie, and the box office receipts have already passed $1 billion. The overwhelming attention of viewers and critics for the movie made us look a little deeper into the origins of the world's most famous doll.

Ruth Handler, co-founder of the toy company Mattel, Inc. (USA), often watched her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls. In those games, the dolls went to college, worked at different jobs, went on dates, got married, and tried their hand at different things. Ruth decided that teenage girls needed a toy that they could play out different roles and that would help them prepare for adulthood. After all, with baby dolls they could role play only as moms and housewives. That's why an older doll was needed.

Ruth had spotted something quite alike on her family vacation in Switzerland. It was the feminine Lilly, the character from the Bild Zeitung comics that originated in Germany in 1955. In addition to the comics, the publishers produced a batch of plastic dolls, which were most often bought as a gift... for men. Ruth purchased one of these dolls as an example (Mattel would later buy the exclusive rights to Lilly from the newspaper in order to settle claims). 

For the first time Barbie doll was introduced at the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959. At that time, representatives of retail chains did not take the "adult" doll seriously, but ordinary customers liked it, and the batch of 351,000 copies was sold out in just a few days. The doll originally cost $3 and was dressed in a black and white swimsuit and black heeled shoes. Moreover, all accessories were sold for extra money and made the bulk of Mattel's revenue.

Shortly after the sales launch, on December 1, 1959, the first BARBIE trademark was registered in the U.S. Patent Office, the date of registration of the first patent for the doll construction was November 21, 1961.

Being a smiling blonde, Barbie gradually made many friends with different colors of hair and skin. These are, for example, the pretty girls Midge, Teresa, Christy, and her younger sister Skipper. In 1961 Barbie got a boyfriend, named Ken in honor of the son of Ruth and Eliot Handler.

In the entire history of toy production, Barbie has never been married and has always been a career woman. She changed more than 250 professions and even ran for president multiple times. Ruth Handler said that the doll was meant to inspire girls and show that they could be anything they wanted to be.

In 2001, Barbie tried her hand at an acting career: the first role she "played" in the animated film "Barbie and the Nutcracker". Then the doll appeared in three parts of "Toy Story". And in 2023, Warner Bros. dedicated an entire movie to the doll, which set a record for box office receipts for movies that are not comic books, sequels or remakes.

Throughout its history, the doll has been criticized for the unrealistic shape of its forms, but for many girls the Barbie doll is the most favorite toy and a desirable gift – each girl in Europe and the United States has an average of 7 Barbie dolls. According to the manufacturer, the Mattel company, about 100 Barbie dolls are sold every minute in the world.