It's hard to imagine a world free of the iconic blonde doll that quickly became America's (and eventually, the world's) sweetheart. But 57 years ago this week, after a debut at the American Toy Fair, an star was born: the Barbie era officially began.
Before Barbie, there were no toy dolls (or toys at all, really) that represented the demographic of older, mature women. Most dolls that young girls were playing with were babies, and though they were popular, there seemed to be a lagging gap in the market for the breadth of age range that dolls were being created to represent.
Yes, it was great for young girls to play with dolls that represented the future children they wanted to raise, but what about toys that represented the actual older and successful women that they aspired to become?
So, like any smart businesswoman, Ruth Handler saw an opportunity in the market and acted on it.
Handler, who was co-founder of Mattel, Inc., bought the rights to a former German character doll named "Lilli" and modeled the original Barbie doll after it.
Mattel became the first toy company that was able to target doll commercials to children in 1959, and quickly gained steam and popularity. Barbie dolls were flying off the shelves, the company selling 351K in its first year--which, at the time, was record-breaking for a toy doll.
Take a look at the first ever Barbie commercial in 1959:
By 1961, as supply and demand would have it, Mattel decided to release the first Ken doll, followed by Midge two years later.
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By 1993, Barbie-related merchandise had steadily reached over $1B in annual sales. Today, it's estimated that over 1B dolls have been sold worldwide.
Recently, the company has been aiming to make the dolls more realistic in a market and targeted generation that craves the ability to relate as much as possible.
Mattel has begun producing Barbie dolls with different frames and body types, from curvy to petite.
Fifty-seven years later, we're still living in a Barbie world.
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