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March 9 1959 First Barbie Doll

On March 9th 1959, the first Barbie doll went on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City.

Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.

Barbie’s appearance was modeled on a doll named Lilli, based on a German comic strip character. Originally marketed as a racy gag gift to adult men in tobacco shops, the Lilli doll later became extremely popular with children. Mattel bought the rights to Lilli and made its own version, which Handler named after her daughter, Barbara. With its sponsorship of the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV program in 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials to children. They used this medium to promote their new toy, and by 1961, the enormous consumer demand for the doll led Mattel to release a boyfriend for Barbie. Handler named him Ken, after her son. Barbie’s best friend, Midge, came out in 1963; her little sister, Skipper, debuted the following year.

Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales, and a lot of controversy. On the positive side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even U.S. presidential candidate. Others thought Barbie’s never-ending supply of designer outfits, cars and “Dream Houses” encouraged kids to be materialistic. It was Barbie’s appearance that caused the most controversy, however. Her tiny waist and enormous breasts led many to claim that Barbie provided little girls with an unrealistic and harmful example and fostered negative body image. It was estimated that if she were a real woman, her measurements would be 36-18-38.

Despite the criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar, topping 1 billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon.


About Craig Hill

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13 thoughts on “March 9 1959 First Barbie Doll

  1. Missed out on this one …. came out a bit to late for me. Thought it was a Sindy doll I had, she was launched even later. So what was the name of the one I had – it was a doll have the length. Can for my life remember the name. You maybe can find it. ?????


    Posted by viveka | March 9, 2012, 12:07 am
  2. Hi,
    It truly is amazing the amount of time Barbie has been around. I still remember my Barbie from all those years ago, and I’m sure a lot of other ladies do as well. She is certainly a doll that made it, talk about a success story, unbelievable. 😀


    Posted by magsx2 | March 9, 2012, 5:15 am
  3. Funny! I was just remarking on my blog about being able to remember “twist and turn” Barbie when she came out. It was THE thing for little girls to have. Prior to being able to twist and turn you could only move her arms and legs and if you poked her hard enough she caved in. 🙂


    Posted by Four Blue Hills | March 9, 2012, 7:38 am
  4. She’s 10 years younger than me. Now I feel old AND depressed. LOL Thanks for the article, brings back memories of my, then, pain in the butt younger sisters


    Posted by --Rick | March 9, 2012, 8:58 am
  5. I’m a year younger and, although she may look younger, I can stand on my feet without a prop up 🙂


    Posted by catbird365 | March 11, 2012, 9:31 am
  6. I have forgotten about her anniversary, thanks to this post…wish I have this doll :-p


    Posted by manikani2d | March 13, 2012, 2:05 am
  7. The Barbie doll, especially earlier models, are, in my opinion, a piece of Americana. I will also forward this article to my sister because she is a doll collector. I can not imagine the asking price (or) exorbitant) price for the 1959 model, because I know what my sister paid for later models of this doll.


    Posted by mulrickillion | March 13, 2012, 3:58 pm


  1. Pingback: March 9 1959 First Barbie Doll « The Compulsive Explainer - March 9, 2012

  2. Pingback: How Body Image Impacts Fashion and How Barbie Tries to Help | littleframes - April 27, 2016

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