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Meet the American who brought Barbie to life, Ruth Handler, fierce testament to girl power


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Toy-industry icon Ruth Handler gave women across the globe greater than only a fairly new plaything. 

She launched girls of the long run to an inspirational position mannequin. 

Handler co-founded toymaking large Mattel in 1945. She is proclaimed the mom of Barbie. 

The lithe, buxom, 11½-inch tall bombshell doll was launched in 1959. 


Barbie’s grown-up feminine options shocked the uncertain male-run toy-industry institution. But Barbie proved one of the profitable toys – one of the profitable client merchandise – in historical past. 

“I wished to create a doll that confirmed women … that they may very well be something,” Handler is commonly quoted as saying. 

Barbie creator Handler

A portrait of a younger Ruth Handler, the pinnacle and co-founder of the Mattel Company. “She was a natural-born entrepreneur,” stated one biographer. (Getty Photos)

She supplies her personal inspirational real-life story of feminine empowerment better than Barbie’s imaginary dream world.

“Ruth had moxie. She was an awesome salesperson. She was this natural-born entrepreneur,” Handler biographer Robin Gerber advised Fox Information Digital.

“I wished to create a doll that confirmed women … that they may very well be something.” — Ruth Handler

Gerber is the creator of the 2009 guide “Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Well-known Doll and the Girl Who Created Her.” 

She added of Handler, “She had the type of capability to plow by means of regardless of the impediment was — and regardless of the impediment was usually associated to being a girl.”

Handler’s story of a feminine trailblazer in male-dominated international enterprise has generated renewed consideration this yr with the box-office success of the “Barbie” film. 

Barbie trailer

The “Barbie” film has generated greater than $1.3 billion on the field workplace as of Aug. 24, 2023.  (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Photos)

It stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and male sidekick Ken. 

Rhea Perlman makes a late cameo as gray-haired Handler. 

The entrepreneur’s legendary success as the girl who breathed life into Barbie is well-known.


She additionally confronted and rose above main skilled and private challenges.

Handler survived breast most cancers in 1970. She was deposed from the management of Mattel in 1975 amid scandal and pleaded no contest to federal fraud costs in 1978. And her legacy was attacked this yr by an allegation that the credit score for Barbie really belongs to a different Mattel government.

A ‘nice American immigrant story’

Ruth Marianna Moskowicz was born on Nov. 4, 1916 in Denver, Colorado, to Polish-Jewish immigrants Jacob and Ida Moskowicz, the youngest of 10 children. 

She suffered a troublesome childhood. 

Her mother and father spoke solely Yiddish whereas her mom was struck by debilitating sickness quickly after younger Ruth was born. 

Mattel founders

Ruth and Elliot Handler advised safety analysts about their toy-making firm Mattel, Inc., in March 1968.  (Denver Publish by way of Getty Photos)

“On the age of six months, Ruth was despatched to dwell along with her older sister Sarah and Sarah’s husband and stayed with them till she was 19,” stories the Jewish Girls’s Archive web site.

Sarah was 20 years older than Ruth; the sister was successfully her mom.

The archive added, “It was in Sarah’s drugstore/soda fountain that she first developed her enthusiasm for enterprise.” 

“Ruth had moxie. She was an awesome salesperson. She was this natural-born entrepreneur.” — Robin Gerber, biographer

Handler’s capability to beat daunting circumstances represents a largely untold side of her journey to success, stated Gerber. “It’s the good American immigrant story,” she stated.

Ruth married Elliot Handler, additionally from Denver, in 1938. The younger couple moved to the Los Angeles space and proved a dynamic enterprise duo.

Elliott Handler was an artist who served close by with the U.S. Military throughout World Struggle II. 

Jay Leno wears plaid blazer with denim shirt in Hot Wheels promotions

Scorching Wheels joined Barbie as one in every of Mattel’s most well-known merchandise. Jay Leno’s love for vehicles will deliver him to the brand new “Scorching Wheels: Final Problem” highlight.  (James Stack)

“On weekends residence from wartime duties at Camp Robert, California, Elliot made toy furnishings for Ruth to promote,” PBS reported in its “Who Made America” collection.

Ruth Handler proved a pure. She landed her first sale at a present store on Wilshire Boulevard. Many extra adopted. 


By the mid-Nineteen Forties the Handlers have been taking in $2 million per yr — about $34 million in 2023 {dollars} — based on a number of stories. 

The shaped Mattel in 1945, whereas World Struggle II nonetheless raged abroad, with companion Harold “Matt” Matson; the identify was a mix Matt and Elliot.

“The corporate that may finally turn out to be one of many world’s main toy producers started fairly inauspiciously in a storage in El Segundo, California,” writes Entrepreneur.com.

Ruth Handler proved a driving and fearless power. “She was a threat taker,” stated Gerber.

Handler, most notably, made one of the daring bets in trendy enterprise historical past. 

Mickey Mouse Club

The unique forged of “The Mickey Mouse Membership” from Oct. 3, 1955. Mattel co-founder and Barbie creator Ruth Handler made a daring gamble that yr, investing your complete worth of the corporate in a sponsorship marketing campaign across the new program. (ABC Picture Archives/Disney Normal Leisure Content material by way of Getty Photos)

She risked Mattel’s complete future on a brand new medium, tv, a brand new program, Walt Disney’s “The Mickey Mouse Membership,” and a brand new idea in promoting: advertising toys on to youngsters. 

“In 1955, Mattel, nonetheless a fledgling agency with annual gross sales of solely $6,000,000, determined to maneuver into toy burp weapons,” Time journal wrote in a 1962 report on the corporate’s surging gross sales, beneath the headline “All’s Swell at Mattel.”

“The corporate that may finally turn out to be one of many world’s main toy producers started fairly inauspiciously in a storage.” 

“Anxious to provide the brand new product a giant promoting sendoff, the Handlers nervously agreed to sponsor ‘Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Membership’ present for a yr, at a price of $500,000.”

The funding represented your complete web price of the corporate. It paid off higher than even the fearless Handler may need imagined.

The marketing campaign did greater than simply increase Mattel’s earnings and profile.

Original Barbie

An authentic No. 1 Barbie, proper — made in 1959 — is proven with a set of Barbie dolls earlier than it went on sale at Christie’s in London, Monday, Aug. 21, 2006. The public sale was to put on Tuesday Sept. 26, 2006 and the No. 1 Barbie was estimated at $1,500-2,200 (800-1,200 kilos sterling).   (Michael Crabtree/Bloomberg by way of Getty Photos)

The deal “revolutionized the $2-billion-a-year U.S. toy {industry},” Time wrote in that very same 1962 report.

The marketing campaign promoted Mattel as arduous as its particular person merchandise, proving Handler’s grasp of branding as a lot as product pitching. 


It was a watershed second in American client tradition. 

At a time when America’s post-war financial increase was empowering teenage shoppers with rock ‘n’ roll and auto obsession, Mattel is broadly seen as the primary firm to market toys on to youngsters and never their mother and father, be aware a number of sources. 

Barbie takes world by storm

Handler and Mattel would revolutionize the {industry} even additional earlier than the last decade was out.

Barbie, Handler’s daring new grown-up doll, made its debut on March 9, 1959, on the Worldwide Toy Truthful in New York Metropolis. 

The primary Barbie doll was created in March 1959. (James Leynse)

Barbie wore a zebra-striped black-and-white swimsuit plus over-sized sun shades, along with her lengthy hair — blonde or brunette — in a carefree beach-ready ponytail. 

“Not like most dolls on the time, Barbie was a grown-up — a teenage vogue mannequin who may date, drive and put on fabulous garments,” writes the Nationwide Museum of American Historical past. 


The doll was named for the Handlers’ daughter, Barbara. The primary Barbie dolls price $3 every. Mattel bought 300,000 within the first yr alone. Her sidekick Ken was launched in 1961, named after the Handlers’ son. 

“I found one thing essential,” Handler wrote in her memoir, “Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story,” about watching women at play.

“They have been utilizing these dolls to venture their goals of their very own futures as grownup girls … Wouldn’t it’s nice if we may take that play sample and three-dimensionalize it?” 

Drawings of Barbie patents show the dolls measurements

Jack Ryan filed Barbie patents in July 1959. (James Leynse)

Barbie’s success defied the predictions of the largely male skeptics within the toy {industry}.

“Barbie was in contrast to the infant and toddler dolls that have been well-liked on the time,” Mattel writes in its on-line historical past.

“However Barbie took the world by storm, letting women think about their futures like by no means earlier than from that second on.”

Handler was impressed by a visit to Germany.

“She noticed the Bild Lilli doll, who was an grownup doll primarily based off a comic book strip,” the journal of public sale home Barnebys writes in its historical past of “the world’s hottest doll.” 

“The inventors of the Bild Lilli doll sued Mattel for copyright infringement, however Mattel ended up shopping for the rights for Bild Lilli in 1963 for $21,600 (equal to over $200,000 immediately).”

Jack Ryan and Zsa Zsa Gabor smile for cameras.

Mattel government John “Jack” Ryan along with his second spouse, Zsa Zsa Gabor; Ryan was her sixth husband. Ann Ryan, the manager’s daughter, claims that he and never Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler is the true creator of the Barbie doll. (PA Photos)

With the “Barbie” film reigniting curiosity within the product this yr, Handler’s legacy not too long ago got here beneath assault. 

Ann Ryan, a podcaster and daughter of former Mattel government John “Jack” Ryan, claimed final month that he, and never Handler, was the true power behind Barbie. 


“From 1959 when Barbie debuted, till 1991 when my father died, Ruth Handler by no means stated something about how she was the creator of Barbie,” Ryan stated in an unique interview final month with Fox Information Digital.

“She waited till he died.”

She cites the patent functions for Barbie exhibiting her father’s identify and never Handler’s identify.

Gerber flatly rejected Ryan’s declare, noting that Handler and Mattel by no means hid the European inspiration behind Barbie.

Ann Ryan and Barbie namesake, Barbara Harris

Ann Ryan stated her father, a Mattel designer, created Barbie and named the doll after her mom, Barbara (proven at proper). (Ann Ryan)

“He (Jack Ryan) didn’t in any means give you the concept or design the doll,” stated the creator.

“She introduced the doll again from Germany and advised him to repeat the concept.”

A legacy greater than Barbie

Ruth Handler died on April 27, 2002, after affected by colon most cancers, in Century Metropolis, California. She was 85 years previous. 

Handler is buried at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver Metropolis. 

Ruth Handler holds a Barbie doll box at press conference

Ruth Handler, Mattel Inc. co-founder, claimed to have invented Barbie. (Matt Campbell)

Barbie, her most well-known legacy, is now a multimedia, multicultural position mannequin for ladies world wide. Mattel has bought greater than 1 billion Barbies over time.

Barbie’s affect on American and international popular culture phenomenon has by no means been extra evident than it has been in 2023. 

Mattel has bought greater than 1 billion Barbies over time.

The “Barbie” film has raked in additional than $575 million within the home field workplace (as of Aug. 24), making it the top-grossing film of 2023, based on Selection. It’s grossed $1.3 billon globally.

However Barbie just isn’t Handler’s solely legacy — maybe not even her most necessary legacy. 

Betty Ford breast cancer

President Gerald R. Ford and first woman Betty Ford maintain arms within the President’s Suite at Bethesda Naval Hospital, previous to the primary woman’s breast most cancers surgical procedure on Oct. 2, 1974, in Bethesda, Maryland.  (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Photos)

Handler suffered breast most cancers and underwent a mastectomy in 1970. 

She responded to the trauma by founding a brand new firm, Ruthton Company, to create trendy prosthetics to assist girls overcome the bodily and psychological scars of mastectomy. 

First woman Betty Ford was among the many firm’s first clients. Handler bought the corporate to well being and sweetness conglomerate Kimberly-Clark in 1991.

“After I conceived Barbie, I believed it was necessary to a bit of lady’s vanity to play with a doll that has breasts.” — Ruth Handler

“After I conceived Barbie, I believed it was necessary to a bit of lady’s vanity to play with a doll that has breasts,” Handler stated in a 1980 interview, based on the web site of the Jewish Girls’s Archive. 

“Now I discover it much more necessary to return that vanity to girls who’ve misplaced theirs.”

Barbie in Paris

A photograph taken on March 10, 2016, in Paris exhibits a Barbie doll holding an electoral poster studying “Barbie for president,” throughout the exhibition “Barbie, Lifetime of an Icon,” on the Museum of Ornamental Arts, in Paris.  (MATTHIEU ALEXANDRE/AFP by way of Getty Photos)

Handler and her supporters say the battle with breast most cancers impacted her capability to run an organization, which had grown to fifteen,000 workers.

She resigned from her position as president of Mattel in 1973, a place she held since 1945, amid rising scandal. 

She and her husband have been ousted from the corporate in 1975. 


Handler and different Mattel executives have been charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and making false monetary statements to the Securities and Alternate Fee in 1978. 

She pleaded no contest and was fined $57,000 and sentenced to 2,500 hours of group service. 

Barbie doll and Ruth Handler

A lady in Italy performs with the hair of her Barbie doll, 2023; on the best, Mattel co-founder and Barbie creator Ruth Handler. (Getty Photos)

Her dedication to empowering women and girls didn’t finish with the scandal, nevertheless. 

“She went on the lecture circuit to advertise her product and inform girls in regards to the significance of early detection and common mammograms,” the Los Angeles Instances wrote in its obituary of Handler.


“I didn’t make some huge cash in it,” she is quoted as saying in regards to the prosthetics enterprise. 

“It positive rebuilt my vanity, and I believe I rebuilt the conceit of others.”

To learn extra tales on this distinctive “Meet the American Who…” collection from Fox Information Digital, click on right here


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