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Barbie dolls Mattel Toys co-owner Ruth Handler had often observed her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls, and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. At the time, most children's toy dolls were baby dolls. Realizing that there could be a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, also a co-founder of Mattel. He was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel's directors.

During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured Lilli doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Die Bild-Zeitung. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.

Upon her return to the United States, Handler reworked the design of the doll (with help from engineer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler's daughter Barbara. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a "Teen-age Fashion Model," with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan; around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.

Ruth Handler believed that it was important for Barbie to have an adult appearance, and early market research showed that some parents were unhappy about the doll's chest, which had distinct breasts. Barbie's appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll's eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model.

Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been copied widely by other toys. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.

Dolls

Barbie
Barbie (original)
Bubblecut Barbie*
Color Magic Barbie*
Bild Lilli

Other Dolls
Malibu Christie*
Twist N Turn Christie*
Quick Curl Francie*
Midge
Skipper
Pose N Play Skipper*
Quick Curl Skipper*
Tutti*
Walking Jamie*

Male Dolls
Ken
Mod Hair Ken*
Allan
Ricky*

Fashions

Skin Diver*

Ken
King Arthur*

Francie
Wild N Wooly*

Skipper
Pepsi Cola*
Red Set For When It's Wet*
Red White N Blue*
Summer Country*

Playsets & Vehicles

Barbie Goes To College*
Discoteque*
Wedding Party Gift Set*