Barbie: The Makings of An American Legend


Thoughts of the 1950s bring fond memories of little girls and their favorite traditional toys, one of which was the inspiration for Barbie. Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, watched as her daughter Barbara explored her imagination while playing with a paper doll. She decided that a three-dimensional doll would better inspire an even more realistic portrayal of the little girl's creativity and imagination about the future. As a result, she created Barbie, named after her daughter, in 1959. Her full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts and she's from Willows, Wisconsin. Sold in over 140 countries around the world, she has proven to be Mattel's biggest success story. If you place Barbie dolls sold since their introduction in 1959 head-to-toe, they would circle the world seven times.

Barbie was first introduced in a black-and-white striped swimsuit. That same year two other Barbie dolls were introduced, the Gay Parisienne and Roman Holiday. Clothes for Barbie were in full production with the baby doll nightie and a wedding dress created just for these beauties. As to date, more than 105 million yards of fabric have been used to create Barbie's wardrobe.

The 1960s would bring many changes in the structure of the doll along with the addition of new friends. In 1961 Barbie was given a boyfriend, Ken. He was named after Ruth Handler's son and was sure to be a hit. A few years later, in 1965, Barbies were given bendable legs. In 1967 Barbie was also given a new youthful face and long straight hair. A year later the first Talking Barbie was introduced. The 1970s would prove to be a year filled with just as many changes for this popular doll.

A portion of New York's Times Square was renamed Barbie Boulevard for one week in honor of Barbie's 16th birthday in 1974, confirming her wide popularity. In 1976 she underwent her second major facial change. Her smile was widened and her hair was sun streaked in color. This occurred just in time for her placement in a time capsule sealed during the Bicentennial celebration to be opened in 2076. She will be referred to as the favorite doll of this time era. Her popularity continued to grow as she was featured in Life Magazine for their 20 years of American Fashion issue.

The 1980s would spotlight fitness and career options with her many current facets. She appears as an aerobics instructor and a credit card carrying executive in 1980. The first Barbie convention would also be held this year. The introduction of the first Hispanic and African-American Barbie would represent Mattel's awareness of the cultural diversity in this country. In 1986 the first Limited Edition Barbie was introduced. She was made of porcelain and was called the Blue Rhapsody Barbie. This would prove to be first in a large series of Limited Edition Barbies. In 1988 the first Happy Holiday Barbie was created as well.

The 1990s features a poseable new body allowing her to become a gymnast, bicyclist, and skater. These would allow Barbie to compete in a highly physical world. Toy giant FAO Schwarz dedicated an area devoted entirely to Barbie in 1992 in New York City. Wearing original designs by Christian Dior and Bob Mackie, she is truly a leader in the world of fashion.

As a true testament to her popularity, we have seen the 1959 doll originally valued at $3.00 increase to $5,000 in mint condition today. She is an icon associated with our culture and our hopes and dreams for the future. It is with these dolls that our children dream of being future doctors, teachers, and gymnasts. It has opened the door to new careers for young girls as well as the inspiration to stay fit and healthy. We can only anticipate what the year 2000 will bring Barbie.



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