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37 Incredible Barbie Facts You Need to Know

From the beginning of the iconic plastic doll's fascinating journey.

Barbie may look young, but the iconic doll actually turned 64 in 2023. And while she's one of the most iconic toys the world has ever seen, there are still many Barbie facts that are hardly common knowledge. She's lived a life in plastic that truly is fantastic. Keep reading to learn some interesting tidbits about the fashion doll who's entertained generations of kids.

RELATED: 25 Amazing "Star Wars" Facts Even Fans Don't Know.

Fabulous Facts About Barbie Dolls

From lawsuits to celebrity collaborations, the Barbie brand has a long and detailed history. Read on for the most interesting bits of Barbie trivia we could find!

1. Barbie was inspired by a German gag gift.

MILAN, ITALY-FEBRUARY 10, 2016: Barbie the icon exhibition, first 1959 barbie dolls series displayed at the at the new MUDEC museum, Cultures Museum, in Milan. - Image
Paolo Bona / Shutterstock

While Barbie may seem as American as apple pie, she was actually modeled after an R-rated German doll named Lilli. As cultural critic M.G. Lord notes in Forever Barbie, the doll was based on a '50s comic strip about a high-end call girl that appeared in the German tabloid Bild-Zeitung.

The Bild Lilli doll inspired by these comics was meant to be a gag gift for adults—but when Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler saw her while traveling in Europe, it sparked the idea for Barbie. "I didn't then know who Lilli was or even that its name was Lilli," she told Lord. "I only saw an adult-shape body that I had been trying to describe for years, and our guys [at Mattel] said couldn't be done."

2. She was also influenced by paper dolls.

pink paper dolls
Cozine / Shutterstock

The world has Barbara Handler, daughter of Mattel co-founders Ruth and Elliot, to thank for Barbie. When Barbara was a child, she developed a preference for paper playmates over baby dolls and would play with them for hours on end. According to Mattel's website, "This sparked Ruth's vision to create a 3D doll for girls to play out their dreams."

3. Her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.

Close-up of a barbie doll head
Ekaterina_Minaeva / Shutterstock

In honor of her source of inspiration—her daughter Barbara—Handler named the doll Barbara Millicent Roberts—Barbie for short. Ironically, the real Barbie was 17 by the time the doll debuted and therefore was not particularly interested in being associated with the child's toy.

"[Kids] would come up to me and say, 'So you're the Barbie doll,'" Handler told People in 1989. "I did not like it. It is very strange to have a doll named after you."

4. Barbie was co-designed by a missile engineer.

A combat rocket is flying above the clouds,
Anelo / Shutterstock

When it came time to create the first Barbie doll, Handler assigned Mattel designer Jack Ryan to the task. A Yale alumnus, Ryan worked for an aerospace company prior to joining the team at Mattel. In fact, he helped design the government's Hawk and Sparrow III missile systems before he created Barbie.

5. Ryan later married Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Zsa Zsa Gabor
Vicki L. Miller / Shutterstock

Years after designing the original Barbie doll, Ryan married Hungarian actor Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1975. By that point, though, the designer's relationship with Mattel was rocky, as he and Handler couldn't agree on who actually came up with the idea for the doll.

"He couldn't think of anything original," Handler told The New Yorker. "But once you led him, and said what he should make, then he figured out how to make it happen." In 1980, Ryan sued Mattel for royalties and settled out of court.

6. Barbie brought Mattel legal troubles from the very beginning.

Close-up Of A Young Stressed Female lawyer
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Barbie was introduced to the world on Mar. 9, 1959 at the American International Toy Fair. And when Greiner & Hausser, the company behind those Lilli dolls mentioned above, saw Barbie, they were not happy. They accused Mattel of copying elements of her design—especially her hip joint—without their permission. Greiner & Hausser sued Mattel for infringement, and they settled out of court in 1963. A year later, Mattel bought the rights to Lilli.

7. Barbie is from Wisconsin, not Malibu.

The Wisconsin state flag waving along with the national flag
rarrarorro / Shutterstock

According to Mattel's official Barbie website, Barbie is from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin. And even though that's not a real place, the state of Wisconsin proudly claims her as a native daughter. An early version of the doll is even featured in the Wisconsin Historical Museum.

8. Ads aired during The Mickey Mouse Club helped make Barbie a hit.

Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers 1957
Archive PL / Alamy

According to Time, Mattel became the first year-round sponsor of The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. TV commercials were a novel advertising approach for toys at the time, and Mattel is largely credited with being the first company to broadcast commercials aimed at kids. When the company launched Barbie, they heavily promoted the doll to Mickey Mouse Club viewers. Soon, the commercials were in regular rotation and Barbie was a smash.

RELATED: 35 Disney Facts That Will Give You a Childlike Sense of Wonder.

9. Many celebrities starred in Barbie commercials before they were famous.

young mila kunis in a barbie commercial
Mattel, Inc.

Considering the steady stream of TV commercials Mattel has produced for Barbie since her debut, it's not too surprising that some celebrities got their big breaks via Barbie commercials. Mila Kunis, Fergie, and The Brady Bunch star Maureen McCormick are just some of the stars who appeared in ads for the doll before they became household names themselves.

10. The original Barbie was sold as both a blonde and a brunette.

brunette barbie on grass
NeydtStock / Shutterstock

The original Barbie was available to purchase as either a blonde or a brunette. But according to Forbes, "the blonde doll sold so much better, the brunette was soon relegated to the back of the shelf."

11. And she didn't smile until 12 years after her debut.

original malibu barbie
Mattel, Inc.

The original Barbie had pursed lips that made her look quite serious. It wasn't until 1971 that Mattel introduced Malibu Barbie, the first version of the doll to smile with her teeth.

12. Ken is two years younger than Barbie.

Busy Ken doll
dollyhaul / Flickr

The Ken doll made its debut in Mar. 1961, making Barbie a bit of a cougar. Handler named Barbie's male counterpart after her son, Kenneth Handler—so even though the dolls are supposed to be dating, they are technically named after siblings.

13. The original Ken was shirtless.

shirtless ken and barbie
Brenda Rocha – Blossom / Shutterstock

The first Ken doll came with red swim trunks, a pair of sandals, and a towel—and that's it. There was no top in sight. The next year's model was a bit more modest: The 1962 version of Ken came with a red-and-white striped shirt, though he still wore it open.

14. Barbie had a rebound relationship while she was broken up with Ken.

Barbie doll during her brief relationship with Blaine. Barbie dated Blaine while she and Ken were on a break.
Avril O'Reilly / Alamy

After 43 years together, Barbie and Ken famously took a break in 2004, just before Valentine's Day. A Mattel spokesperson said in a press release at the time that Ken and Barbie "feel it's time to spend some quality time—apart."

During her break from Ken, Barbie hooked up with a "Cali Guy" named Blaine Gordon, who made his debut during the 2004 Toy Fair. Blaine was very popular, and no new Ken dolls were produced for two years after Barbie's new beau hit shelves.

But after apparently taking the time to work on himself, Ken reappeared in 2006 with an updated look and style. He and Barbie managed to reconcile just in time for Valentine's Day 2011 and have been together ever since.

15. Barbie has had many siblings come and go over the years.

Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2018: Barbie dolls with blonde hair. - Image
Indre Pau / Shutterstock

Sure, many of us know Barbie's younger sister Skipper, who debuted in 1964 and is still going strong. But did you know she also has twin siblings, Tutti and Todd, who were introduced a year later? Tutti was discontinued in 1971 and eventually replaced with Stacie, and Todd has been discontinued and reissued too many times to count.

Barbie's toddler sister Kelly, meanwhile, arrived in the mid-1990s, though she was discontinued in 2010. That same year, the world met Chelsea, her replacement. The youngest of the crew is an infant named Krissy, who was born in the late '90s. She only made it a few years before being discontinued. And you thought your family was complicated.

16. Barbie has had more than 40 pets.

barbie and dancing horse
Mattel, Inc.

According to The Things, the doll has had 21 dogs, 14 horses, six cats, three ponies, a parrot, a panda, a chimpanzee, a giraffe, and a zebra. And Barbie's history with animals even goes beyond her extensive pet collection.

In 2015, following the release of the documentary Blackfish, aquatic theme parks faced growing backlash over their treatment of orca whales. As a result, Mattel announced that they would discontinue SeaWorld Barbie. "Barbie has a rich history as an animal rights activist. She's actually been fur-free for her entire history," a PETA spokesperson said in response. "We are delighted to see that she can retain her animal-friendly image."

RELATED: 29 Fun Cat Facts You Never Knew About Your Furry Friend.

17. Barbie's friend Christie was the first Black doll in the Barbie universe.

christie barbie doll from 1969
Mattel, Inc.

Christie is one of Barbie's oldest friends. She was also the first Black Barbie doll, introduced as part of the Talking Barbie line of dolls in 1968. Other than a brief exodus in the '00s, Christie been a part of the extended Barbie-verse ever since her launch.

18. The first celebrity Barbie was based on the model Twiggy.

Express / Stringer / Getty

It makes sense that someone as famous as Barbie would have well-known friends. And her first famous friend, according to the official Barbie website, was Twiggy, based on the iconic British fashion model. The Twiggy doll, which was introduced in 1967, wore a yellow, green, and blue vertical-striped mini dress with yellow boots.

19. Barbie's first job was "teenage fashion model."

barbie's best friend Christie
Sherab / Alamy

When she was first sold in 1959 in a black-and-white swimsuit, Barbie was promoted as a "teenage fashion model." Of course, that's before she took on numerous other industries and became a seasoned businesswoman, scientist, and educator.

20. But since then, she has had about 200 different careers.

career barbies on a shelf at the toy store
A. Mertens/Shutterstock

In the past 60 years or so, Barbie has held a stunning number of jobs, working in the arts, business, politics, and science, to name a few fields. You probably didn't even realize that she has experience as a sign language teacher, a UNICEF ambassador, a Canadian Mountie, and a rapper. To date, she has more than 200 careers on her seemingly never-ending resumé.

21. She also has relatives in the U.K.

Barbie Francie Fairchild
RMyers / Alamy

Barbie has an English cousin named Francie Fairchild. She was sold from 1966 to 1976, and then hit shelves again in 2011. Interestingly enough, that was the year all eyes were on the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Coincidence? We think not.

22. Ruth Handler helped develop a prosthetic breast for reconstructive surgery.

Hand Holding up a Pink Breast Cancer Ribbon
Jo Panuwat D / Shutterstock

After being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy in the '70s, Ruth Handler helped design and develop a high-quality breast prosthesis for other breast cancer survivors with the company Nearly Me, which has now been making prosthetic breasts and other post-mastectomy products for more than 40 years.

23. Barbie has run for president six times.

presidential barbie
Mattel, Inc.

Talk about persistence. Barbie has run for president every election year since 1992, excluding the 1996 race. Barbie took her progressive campaign a step further in 2016, running on the first all-female ticket the U.S. had ever seen.

"The president and vice president dolls continue our efforts to expose girls to inspiring careers that are underrepresented by women," Lisa McKnight, general manager and senior vice president at Barbie, said in a statement. "We see this doll set as a timely and topical platform to further the conversation around female leadership."

24. Barbie went to "went to space" four years before the moon landing.

Barbie doll dressed as an astronaut.
8th.creator / Shutterstock

On Jul. 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon. And while most of the world was understandably impressed by this feat, Barbie was all "been there, done that." You see, in 1965, four years before Apollo 11 happened, Miss Astronaut Barbie "sashay[ed] her way into space."

RELATED: 32 Greatest Scientific Discoveries of Our Lifetime.

25. Totally Hair Barbie is the best-selling version of the doll to date.

totally hair barbie
Mattel, Inc.

According to Guinness World Records, the best-selling Barbie doll of all time is Totally Hair Barbie, released in 1992. To date, more than 10 million dolls have been sold worldwide; in 2017, Mattel even released a 25th anniversary version of the doll in light of its success.

26. The Barbie dreamhouse is "worth" $25 million.

barbie dreamhouse
Mattel, Inc.

In 2013, Mattel announced that Barbie would be selling her dream house in Malibu for $25 million. "The 8,500-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bathroom, sits on a 23,456 square-foot lot and includes an ultra-private entrance to 150 feet of pristine Malibu Beach," the company said in a press release. Mattel added, "It's the only property in Malibu with truly unobstructed views of the ocean—after all, it only has three walls." Too funny.

27. A Barbie doll is sold every three seconds.

little kid picking out a barbie at the toy store
Alina Demidenko / Shutterstock

In 2003, Mattel made the claim that every three seconds, someone in the world buys a new Barbie. According to The Telegraph, that means the number of Barbies in the world could circumnavigate the globe more than six times.

The world is 24,900 miles in circumference, and a Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall. Therefore, you would need 13.7 million Barbies stacked head-to-toe to make it around the world. By using the aforementioned three-second Barbie rule, there are enough dolls to wrap around the globe more than half a dozen times.

28. A Siri-like Barbie was once accused of spying on her owners.

Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

Though Barbie has generated her fair share of controversy throughout her history, 2015 saw one of the weirder debates about the doll. That year, Mattel launched Hello Barbie, which allowed consumers to ask the doll questions and get responses, similar to Apple's Siri.

Critics questioned whether or not Hello Barbie violated the privacy of both children and parents, considering the voices of those speaking to the doll could be recorded and stored by Mattel's tech partner ToyTalk. Others feared hackers could use the WiFi connection to somehow tap into an owner's home, overhearing their private conversations.

29. The biggest Barbie collector in the world has 15,000 dolls.

set of barbies
NeydtStock / Shutterstock

Barbie has thousands of dedicated collectors. However, her biggest fan and most devoted collector is a German woman named Bettina Dorfmann, who has amassed more than 15,000 dolls since receiving her first one in 1966 at the age of five.

30. The most expensive Barbie sold for more than $300,000.

Barbie by Stefano Canturi
Alpha / Flickr

Barbie originally sold for $2.99 and today, she costs about $10 on average. Not the Stefano Canturi Barbie, though. This doll has an actual diamond necklace by jewelry designer Stefano Canturi that features an emerald-cut Australian pink diamond surrounded by three carats of white diamonds. Christie's auctioned it off in 2010 to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The final bid was $302,500, making the blinged-out doll the most expensive Barbie ever sold.

31. Oscar de la Renta was the first fashion designer to work with Barbie.

Oscar de la renta Barbie
nicolenicole / Flickr

In 1984, Barbie added her first designer dress to her wardrobe. Mattel teamed up with famous fashion designer Oscar de la Renta to give Barbie some "glamorous jewel tone and metallic outfits," as the official Barbie website notes. Since then, Mattel has teamed up with designers including Christian Louboutin, Givenchy, Coach, Dior, and Vera Wang.

32. Andy Warhol used Barbie as inspiration for one of his portraits.

Andy Warhol
Science History Images / Alamy

In 1986, pop art icon Andy Warhol created a portrait of one of his many muses, BillyBoy*. However, this "portrait" was unusual in that it wasn't actually based on an image of BillyBoy*, but of Barbie.

"For many, many, many years [Andy] wanted to do a painting of me. And for some reason, I didn't appreciate that idea. Out of annoyance, I said to him, 'Well if you really want to do my portrait, do a portrait of Barbie because Barbie, c'est moi,'" BillyBoy* told the BBC.

RELATED: The 10 Best U.S. Art Museums That Should Be on Your Bucket List.

33. Barbie held her first runway show in New York in 2009.

Barbie fashion show at New York fashion week
WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy

In 2009, in honor of her 50th anniversary, Barbie held her first runway show during New York's Fashion Week. According to Reuters, designers who participated in the show included Vera Wang, Juicy Couture, Badgley Mischka, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein.

34. There was a wildly popular pop song written about her.

Aqua single Barbie Girl, a 1990s one hit wonder
MCA Records

In 1997, Danish Norwegian pop group Aqua released their third single, "Barbie Girl." In the UK, it topped the charts for an entire month, becoming the country's thirteenth best-selling single of all time. In total, the band sold about eight million copies worldwide. But where there's fandom, there are also haters. Despite all the success, the song was actually voted the worst of the '90s by a Rolling Stone reader survey.

35. A talking version of Barbie was released, but not everyone liked what she had to say.

barbie close up
DAndreev / Shutterstock

In 1992, Mattel released Teen Talk Barbie. Each doll was equipped with a voicebox and the ability to say four different phrases, assigned at random out of a library of 270. While most expressions revolved around normal teenage activities or even more aspirational pursuits (i.e. "I'm studying to be a doctor."), others weren't so well-received. The phrase "Math class is tough!" garnered the attention of a national women's group and was eventually removed from the selection list. The controversy inspired a Season 5 episode of The Simpsons, in which Lisa is disappointed by her talking Malibu Stacy doll.

36. She has a huge following on YouTube.

screen shot of barbie and kids from the official YouTube Channel
@Barbie / YouTube

The Barbie YouTube Channel has just shy of 3,000 videos and over 11 million subscribers. There, fans can see animated videos of her in action, singing songs and sharing updates about what's coming next. She's even shared her morning routine, revealed her make-up hacks, and participated in viral challenges.

37. She's the inspiration behind Greta Gerwig's latest masterpiece.

barbie movie poster featuring margot robbie
@barbiethemovie / Twitter

Greta Gerwig's much-anticipated Barbie hit theaters in July 2023. The film, which follows Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken's (Ryan Gosling) journey into the "real world," has already grabbed the attention of critics, who've dubbed it "smart," brash," and "a pink fever dream." The huge ensemble cast includes America Ferrera, Will Ferrell, Michael Cera, John Cena, Dua Lipa, Nicola Coughlan, Kate McKinnon, Emerald Fennel, and more.

Wrapping Up

That's it for our list of Barbie facts, but be sure to check back with us soon for even more awesome trivia. You can also sign up for our newsletter so you don't miss out on what's next!

Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
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