First Barbie Doll goes on display – March 9, 1959

On March 9, 1959 the first barbie doll went on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City. This date is also used as Barbie’s official birthday. She wore a black and white striped one piece bathing suit, earings sunglasses and opened toed shoes, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. Eleven inches tall Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features.

First edition Barbie Doll from 1959

American businesswoman Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel Inc. with her husband in 1945, is credited with the creation of the doll. 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. During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured 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. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production. 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 and her little sister, Skipper, debuted the following year. Mattel acquired the rights to the Bild Lilli doll in 1964 and production of Lilli was stopped. 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.

First editions of Barbie dolls from 1959