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Who Created Barbie - Ruth Handler’s Life And Her Iconic Doll

Let us take a quick journey through the whimsical mind of Ruth Handler, the one who created Barbie. The world of toys was forever changed by her creation. So, learn how the ingenious mind of Ruth Handler resulted in the success of Barbie and Mattel, the company behind the dolls.

Author:Frazer Pugh
Reviewer:Dexter Cooke
Aug 04, 2023
38.6K Shares
665.6K Views
Once upon a time in a magical world of toy creation, Barbie was brought to life - but who created Barbie?
Who was the creative genius behind one of the most iconic figures in the history of playtime fashion?
Picture this: a delightful mix of elegance, fashion-forward flair, and limitless imagination, all woven together by the brilliant mind of a visionary inventor.
Meet Ruth Handler, the imaginative powerhouse behind the birth of Barbie.
But how did it all begin?
What’s the journey undertaken by the one who created Barbie?

From the archives: Barbie creator Ruth Handler on her life before and after the doll

Who Is Ruth Handler?

Both of Jewish descent, Jakob Joseph Moskowicz and Ida Rubenstein were born in Poland.
They got married there, where they initially raised their six children.
In 1907, Mr. Moskowicz emigrated to the U.S., with his wife and children following suit in 1908.
According to the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA), Mr. Moskowicz told immigration officials at Ellis Island that he was a blacksmith. That’s the reason why they sent him to Denver in Colorado, which, that time, had a booming railroad industry.
“Moskowicz” became “Mosko” when the family emigrated, according to Antique Trader. “Moskowicz” was also the family name stated in 100 People Who Changed 20th-Century America, Volume 1 (2013).
The Mosko family settled in Denver, where Ida gave birth to four more children, with the last one born when she was 40.
The tenth child, Ruth Marianna, was born on November 4, 1916.
Who would have thought that the youngest member of the Mosko family would be the one who created Barbie?
A young Ruth Handler; an office girl Barbie, a nurse Barbie, a doctor Barbie
A young Ruth Handler; an office girl Barbie, a nurse Barbie, a doctor Barbie
When Ruth was six months old, Sarah, one of her older siblings, took her in and raised her because their mother fell ill. Ruth lived with her sister until she was 19.
In 1929, B’nai B’rith, a Jewish service organization, hosted a dance for teenagers, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Society (JTA). Per an article published by the TV station KDVR, the event was held at East High School in Denver, where Ruth studied.
Ruth attended the dance and so did Isadore “Izzy” E. Handler (1916-2011), an art student. They met and fell in love.
In the 1930s, while a high school student, Ruth worked at Greenwald’s Soda Fountain at Home Public Market in Denver (the location of this bygone market is near the Colorado Convention Center, which opened in 1990).
Sarah’s husband, Louie Greenwald, owned the business.
One physical proof that the one who created Barbie really worked there?
Well, the Denver Public Library (est. 1889) keeps a picture of the Greenwald’s Soda Fountain.
Taken by Mile High Photo Company in the 1930s (digitally restored in 1984), it shows a young Ruth Handler behind the counter together with four co-workers.
After high school, Ruth attended the University of Denver.
When she was in second year college, according to Investor’s Business Daily, a female friend encouraged her to come with her for a vacation in Los Angeles.
While in L.A., Ruth got employed as an office worker (part of the steno pool) at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
Izzy, per JWA, followed Ruth in California. They went back together to Denver and got married there in 1938.
Yes, the one who created Barbie married her high school sweetheart.
Fast FactsDetails
Full NameRuth Marianna R. Mosko-Handler
Birth DateNovember 4, 1916
Place of BirthDenver, Colorado
SchoolsEast High School; University of Denver
DeathApril 27, 2002 (age: 85)
Place of DeathLos Angeles, California
Cause of Deathcolon cancer
ParentsJakob Joseph Mosko; Ida Rubenstein-Mosko
HusbandIsadore “Izzy” E. Handler / Elliot Handler (1916-2011)
ChildrenBarbara Joyce M. Handler-Segal (born 1941); Kenneth Robert M. Handler (1944-1994)

Ruth Handler Career

Now as Mrs. Ruth Marianna M. Handler, she and her husband decided to live in Los Angeles the same year they got married.
Her husband - as a married guy - was coaxed by Ruth to use the name “Elliot Handler” (“Elliot” is his middle name), according to the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA).
Ruth Handler resumed working at Paramount.
Elliot Handler worked as a lighting fixture designer while enrolled at ArtCenter School in downtown Los Angeles (now the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena).
At some point, according to an article by the TV network PBS, Elliot Handler decided to make furniture using Plexiglas and Lucite (strong plastics).
Ruth Handler helped her husband turn it into a successful business venture.
They had huge clients, including Douglas Aircraft (the predecessor of McDonnell Douglas, which later merged with Boeing).
After working at Mattel (more about this in the next section), Ruth Handler, the one who created Barbie, assumed various positions throughout the years:
Company/OrganizationPosition/Role & Inclusive Years
Ruthton Corp. (Nearly Me)Founder - 1974 to 1991
White House Conference on Children and YouthBusiness Advisory Council - 1970
Center Theater GroupBoard of Directors - 1971
Council of Economic AdvisorsAdvisory Committee on the Economic Role of Women - 1972
Vista Del Mar Child Care ServiceBoard of Directors
President’s National Business Council for Consumer AffairsExecutive Committee & Chair of Subcouncil on Product Safety - 1971 to 1974
Ruth Handler in pearl necklace and blazer and Elliot Handler in a coat and tie smiling together
Ruth Handler in pearl necklace and blazer and Elliot Handler in a coat and tie smiling together

Ruth Handler And Mattel

In 1945, Elliot Handler and his colleague and friend Harold “Matt” Matson put up a business together. They called it “Mattel Creations” (“Matt” plus “el” from “Elliot”).
That year, Ruth Handler already gave birth to two children: Barbara Joyce (born 1941) and Kenneth Robert (1944-1994).
According to Investor’s Business Daily, she recommended that her husband and his business partner, Matson, make picture frames.
Making and selling dolls wasn’t in the mind yet of the woman who created Barbie.
They succeeded in selling picture frames.
However, according to a 2008 articleby Entrepreneur, Matson thought that their business venture would not make it big in the long run.
So, he left after the couple made a buyout, making Ruth Handler the new business partner of her husband.
In 1947, Mattel made a miniature ukulele toy (“Uke-A-Doodle”), which became a hit.
By 1951, there were already 600 workers at Mattel, a toy manufacturing company.
It was also that year that the company received the Urban League Award for hiring several women as well as people of color.
Barbara Handler, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times in a 2011 article, praised her parents by saying:
My mother was ahead of her time, that’s for sure, and he [Elliot Handler] was such a great designer. He had such a great flair for creativity.- Barbara Joyce M. Handler-Segal
The one who created Barbie indeed had a knack in business.
The first Barbie doll in white bathing suit with black stripes inside a plastic container
The first Barbie doll in white bathing suit with black stripes inside a plastic container

Barbie History

On June 24, 1952, cartoonist Reinhard Beuthien created a comic strip featuring a curvaceous woman named Lilli for the maiden issue of Bild, a German tabloid (still publishing in 2023).
Readers liked the comic strip and it became a regular (final publication: January 5, 1961).
In 1955, per Euronews, Bild’s publisher asked the German toy company O&M Hausser (later renamed as Greiner & Hausser) to create a Lilli doll.
In that year, the dolls were sold inside a clear plastic tube, with the words “Bild-Lilli.”
They were not initially meant as toys for little girls; rather, the Bild-Lilli dolls were marketed as a type of gag gift intended for male adults.
No wonder they’re not found in toy stores but in newsstands, gift shops, and other places, including those that sell tobacco.
Eventually, the Bild-Lilli dolls came in various outfits - approximately 150 ones. So, finally, it caught the attention of little girls.
In 1956, Ruth Handler and her family embarked on a European tour. It was on this overseas trip where she encountered the Bild-Lilli dolls.
This incident sparked a business idea to the one who created Barbie.
Per PBworks, she bought three Bild-Lilli dolls: one from a store in Lucerne, Switzerland, and two more in Vienna, Austria.
Back at the Mattel office in California, Ruth Handler endorsed the idea to make their own version of the Bild-Lilli dolls.
She sent John “Jack” W. Ryan (1926-1991), a designer at Mattel, to Japan to look for a manufacturer because she couldn’t find one in the U.S. that met the company’s budget.
It took three years to finalize the design for Ruth Handler’s Bild-Lilli-inspired doll, and when it did, she named it after her eldest child, Barbara.
Barbara ‘Barbie’ Handler in fashion dangling earrings and partly opened beige zippered jacket
Barbara ‘Barbie’ Handler in fashion dangling earrings and partly opened beige zippered jacket
Per Women’s Health, Barbara - she turned 82 in May 2023 - told the New York Times in December 2002 that her nicknames were:
  • Babs
  • Barbie
  • Bobby
According to German-Way.com, at that time, there was already a product name “Barbara,” which was copyrighted. The same case for “Babs.”
Therefore, Ruth Handler named Matell’s doll, which, based on various reports, she would refer to as her “baby,” as “Barbie.”
The one who created Barbie named the now iconic doll after her first-born’s nickname.
The first Barbie doll, called “No. 1 Ponytail,” appears like this:
  • blonde (the hair in ponytail)
  • in white bathing suit with black horizontal stripes
  • wearing gold-colored hoop earrings
  • with blue eyeshadow
  • 11 and a half inches in body length
Based on a picture posted by Antique Trader on its website, “No. 1 Ponytail” has copper cylinders inserted on the doll’s feet because it comes on a circular black stand with the name “Barbie” engraved on the surface.
On March 9, 1959 - that’s 64 years ago! - Barbie was introduced to the public at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Its retail price: $3.
Sales were initially slow but three months after its debut, per Entrepreneur, approximately 20,000 Barbie dolls were sold per week.
At the end of 1959, the total number of Barbie dolls sold was estimated to be around 350,000, according to German-Way.com.

1959 First EVER Barbie Commercial High Quaility HQ!

In 1961, Mattel introduced Ken, named after Kenneth Robert Handler, the second and youngest child of the one who created Barbie.
By the way, Barbie’s full name is Barbara “Barbie” Millicent Roberts. Her boyfriend, Ken, is Kenneth Sean Carson.
In 1964, per FindLaw.com, Mattel made two payments (first one: approximately $21,600; second: $3,800) to Greiner & Hausser (the former O&M Hausser) for the copyright of Bild-Lilli.
Since then, Greiner & Hausser has stopped manufacturing and selling Bild-Lilli dolls.
In 1965, Mattel became a Fortune 500 company as its overall toy sales went beyond $100 million, reported the Los Angeles Times.
By 2008 (since it was first sold in 1959), Mattel sold over 1 billion Barbie dolls.
In an autobiography, Ruth Handler, the one who created Barbie, wrote, as quoted by Antique Trader:
“My own philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman had choices.”- Ruth Marianna R. Mosko-Handler (1916-2002)
American actress and director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (2023)- starring Margot Robbie (for the title character) and Ryan Gosling (as Ken) - opened in U.S. theaters on July 21, 2023.
Per Box Office Mojo, the movie, as of this writing, already grossed approximately $823.8 million worldwide.
The one who created Barbie must be smiling from up above.
Ruth Handler died on April 27, 2002 at 85 after a surgical procedure for colon cancer while confined at Century City Hospital (it closed in 2004) in Los Angeles.

Barbie | Main Trailer

People Also Ask

What Are 2 Interesting Facts About Ruth Handler?

First, in 1970 - some 11 years after the first Barbie dolls were introduced in the U.S. - the one who created Barbie got diagnosed with breast cancer.
Ruth Handler won her fight against the Big C. However, as part of the treatment, a breast was removed (a surgical procedure called mastectomy), according to JWA.
Second, as a breast cancer survivor, the entrepreneur in her paved the way for her to establish a new company: Ruthton Corporation.
Founded in 1974, the name was the result of combining her first name (“Ruth”) with “ton,” the second syllable of the first name of her business partner (Peyton Massey).
Ruthton Corp. creates artificial/prosthetic breasts or breast prostheses called “Nearly Me” for women who underwent mastectomy.
In 1991, per Entrepreneur, Ruth Handler sold the company to Kimberly-Clark.
At present, the business she conceptualized is now run by Nearly Me Technologies, LLC, with headquarters in Waco, Texas.

What Is The Oldest Barbie Doll?

The oldest Barbie doll was the first one that was sold in 1959. In 2023, that doll turned 64 years old.

What Is The Rarest Barbie?

The Gamer compiled a list (updated as of May 2023) of rare Barbie dolls. The 1959 Barbie (“No. 1 Ponytail”), apparently one of the rarest, is estimated to be worth $27,000 in 2023.
Other rare Barbie dolls include:
a. Career Girl Barbie Doll(year released: 1963; estimated value: $3,495)
  • This one is rare because it was only released in Japan.
  • It’s 60 years old in 2023.
b. Diamond Barbie by De Beers(1999; $85,000)
  • This is a 40-year anniversary Barbie doll.
  • It has white gold jewelry and 160 diamonds (on the dress) from renowned diamond company De Beers.
c. Karl Lagerfeld Barbie(2014; $6,000)
  • German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (1933-2019) helped design this doll.
  • Only 999 pieces were created.
d. Winter Glamour White Barbie Doll(2006; $2,000)
  • The clothes that go in this Winter Glamour line are in different colors.
  • Only 15 Barbie dolls from this line are in white gowns.
e. Philipp Plein 50-Year Anniversary Platinum Barbie Doll(2009; $2,500)
  • It was created for Philipp Plein, another German fashion designer, to celebrate his 50th year in the industry.
  • The dolls (999 pieces) were only sold during a toy fair in Nuremberg, Germany.
A beaming Ruth Handler with gray hair and in light purple blazer; a set of Barbie dolls
A beaming Ruth Handler with gray hair and in light purple blazer; a set of Barbie dolls

Final Thoughts

Who created Barbie?
It was the youngest child of Jewish-Polish immigrants, who grew up to become a woman with an eye for style and a passion for business and storytelling.
She set out to revolutionize the toy industry.
Ruth Handler, the one who created Barbie, made a global sensation, captivating the hearts of children and collectors alike for generations to come.
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Frazer Pugh

Frazer Pugh

Author
Frazer Pugh is a distinguished expert in finance and business, boasting over 6 years of experience. Holding an MBA in Finance from Stanford University, Frazer's credentials underscore his authority and expertise in the field. With a successful track record in executive roles and as a published author of influential articles on financial strategy, his insights are both deep and practical. Beyond his professional life, Frazer is an avid traveler and culinary enthusiast, drawing inspiration from diverse cultures and cuisines. His commitment in delivering trustworthy analysis and actionable advice reflects his dedication to shaping the world of finance and business, making a significant impact through his work.
Dexter Cooke

Dexter Cooke

Reviewer
Dexter Cooke is an economist, marketing strategist, and orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience crafting compelling narratives that resonate worldwide. He holds a Journalism degree from Columbia University, an Economics background from Yale University, and a medical degree with a postdoctoral fellowship in orthopedic medicine from the Medical University of South Carolina. Dexter’s insights into media, economics, and marketing shine through his prolific contributions to respected publications and advisory roles for influential organizations. As an orthopedic surgeon specializing in minimally invasive knee replacement surgery and laparoscopic procedures, Dexter prioritizes patient care above all. Outside his professional pursuits, Dexter enjoys collecting vintage watches, studying ancient civilizations, learning about astronomy, and participating in charity runs.
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