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The History of Barbie

The first Barbie doll went on display on March 9, 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States that had adult features. Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler (who co-founded Mattel with her husband in 1945) came up with the idea for Barbie after noticing her daughter ignoring baby dolls in favor of playing with paper dolls of adult women. Barbie’s appearance was modeled on a doll named Lilli, who in turn was based on a German comic strip character and had become popular with children despite originally being marketed as a racy gag gift for men. Handler bought the rights and created her own version, which she named “Barbie” after her daughter, Barbara. Barbie was promoted in TV commercials and quickly became so popular that in 1961, Mattel released a boyfriend for Barbie named Ken (named after Handler’s son). Barbie’s best friend, Midge, was released in 1963 and her little sister, Skipper, came out in 1964. While the original intention was to provide a toy that allowed young girls to imagine the future, Barbie dolls are not without controversy. On one hand, many women saw the dolls as an important antidote to traditional 1950s gender roles since Barbie had many jobs, but others worried that the dolls encouraged kids to be materialistic. Still others worried that her unrealistic body proportions fostered a negative body image. Despite these concerns, Barbie dolls continue to be popular today (over 1 billion dolls have been sold since 1959!), and Barbie herself is now considered a bona fide icon.

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