Today In History: Barbie Debuts
There is no toy in history more famous and more perennially controversial than the Barbie doll. The realistic girl’s doll went on the market for the first time today in 1959. It would forever change the way girls were advertised to, and sparked a cultural phenomenon that would result in a firestorm of feminist condemnation.
Barbie was designed and manufactured by Mattel, Inc. It was the brainchild of Ruth Handler, who based her idea off of Bild Lilli, a German doll. Barbie is still the flagship toy of Mattel, still popular all these decades later. More than a billion Barbie dolls have been sold since the toy first made it to shelves.
However, sales of Barbie dolls has declined significantly in the past few years, with 2014 marking the beginning of the spiral.
Barbie was notable not only for being one of the first realistic children’s dolls to become popular as well as pioneering the model of selling accessories for toys. Barbie has also spawned multiple spinoff dolls and special editions, with a still-booming collector’s market.
Barbie has been heavily criticized for promoting both unrealistic body standards and superficial, materialistic values to children. Criticism has only intensified with time. In 2016, Mattel announced that it would be introducing Barbies with alternative body types. It’s not the first time her design has been altered.
The Barbie doll was innovative, and helped shape the model of how to manufacture and market children’s toys. It was among the first toys to rely almost entirely upon TV advertising as a marketing strategy.