29 Fascinating Things You Never Knew About Barbie
Yes, she really can be anything!
Barbie may look young, but the iconic doll turns 60 this year. And while she’s become one of the most well-known toys the world has ever seen, there are many facts about Barbie that are hardly common knowledge. She’s lived a life in plastic that’s truly fantastic. So without further ado, here are 29 fun Barbie facts you probably didn’t know.
While Barbie may seem all-American, she was modeled after a German doll named Lilli. The doll was based on a comic strip about a high-end call girl that appeared in a German tabloid called Bild. The Lilli doll that followed was meant as a gag gift.
However, when Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel with her husband in 1945, saw the doll while traveling in Europe, it sparked an idea.
Handler had noticed that her preteen daughter and her friends were over baby dolls. Instead, they would pretend that their paper dolls were actually adults, which made Handler realize there was market for an adult-looking 3-D doll that a young girl would look up to.
When Handler saw the Lilli doll while on a European vacation with her family in 1956, she bought multiples, one for her daughter and a few to bring back to Mattel.
Handler tasked Mattel designer Jack Ryan with making an American Lilli. But the designer had an interesting background: He’d graduated from Yale University and then worked for an aerospace company. In fact, he helped design the government’s Hawk and Sparrow III missile systems before helping to create Barbie.
Ryan went on to marry Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1975. By that point, the designer’s relationship with Mattel had gone downhill as he and Handler debated who really came up with Barbie.
“He couldn’t think of anything original,” Handler told The New Yorker of Ryan. “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 eventually, they reached a settlement out of court.
Barbie was “born” on March 9, 1959, which is the date of the American International Toy Fair in New York City where she was introduced to the world. When Greiner & Hausser, the company behind the Lilli doll, 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.
Thanks to her source of inspiration, Handler named the Barbie doll after her daughter, Barbara Millicent Roberts (instead of Handler).
Ironically, the real Barbie was 17 by the time the doll actually debuted, and was not particularly interested in playing with her, nor with the fame that came along. “[Kids] would come up to me and say, ‘So you’re the Barbie doll,'” the real Barbie told People. “I did not like it. It is very strange to have a doll named after you.”
She’s actually from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin. And, another fun fact about Barbie, the state of Wisconsin proudly claims her as a native daughter. The doll is even featured in the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
Mattel became the first year-round sponsor of The Mickey Mouse Club, beginning in 1955. TV commercials were a novel advertising approach for toys at the time and Mattel is 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. She became a hit as soon as the commercials were in regular rotation.
When she was first marketed in 1959, Barbie was promoted as a “teenage fashion model,” dressed in a black-and-white bathing suit. Of course, that’s before she took on numerous other industries, as you’ll see later on.
The original Barbie was available as either a blond or a brunette. But “the blond doll sold so much better, the brunette was soon relegated to the back of the shelf,” according to Forbes.
The original Barbie had pursed lips that made her look quite serious. Then, in 1971, Mattel introduced Malibu Barbie, who smiled with her teeth for the first time. Her pearly whites really sparkled against her new tan, as well. Clearly, California life suited Ms. Roberts.
Ken made his debut on March 11, 1961. So yes, Barbie is a bit of a cougar.
Another Barbie fact (that’s also a little odd, to say the least): Handler named Barbie’s male counterpart after her son, Kenneth Handler. So, even though the dolls were supposed to be dating, they are named after siblings.
And sadly, the real Ken died in 1994 of a brain tumor.
The first Ken came with red swim trunks, a pair of sandals, and a towel. But there was no top in sight.
The next year’s model was a bit more modest: The 1962 Ken came with a red-and-white-striped shirt, though he still wore it open.
In 2003, Fortune claimed that every three seconds, someone in the world buys a new Barbie.
And, according to The Telegraph, that means the number of Barbies in the world could circumnavigate the globe 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, that means there are enough dolls to wrap around the globe more than half a dozen times.
Though she is the oldest and most famous of the Roberts clan, Barbie has a huge family, and a complicated one at that. Sure, many of us know her kid sister Skipper, who debuted in 1964 and is still going strong.
But did you also know she has twin siblings, Tutti and Todd, who were introduced a year later? Tutti was discontinued in 1971 and many believe that Stacie, who came into the fold in 1990, is her modern incarnation. Then, in 1996, Todd was discontinued as well.
Barbie’s toddler sister Kelly arrived in 1995, but was also 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 1998. She is seemingly alive and well. And you thought your family was dysfunctional.
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 turned toward the U.K. because Prince William and Kate Middleton got married. Coincidence? We think not.
For someone as famous as Barbie, it makes sense that she would have well-known friends. The Twiggy doll, based on the iconic ’60s fashion model, was the first celebrity Barbie to be introduced to the world in 1967.
Since then, Mattel has rolled out a number of celebrity Barbies, including Donny and Marie Osmond and Cheryl Ladd in the ’70s, Cher in the ’80s, MC Hammer in the ’90s, and tons of famous faces since the early aughts (like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Lindsay Lohan, Nicki Minaj, and Taylor Swift to name a few).
Considering the steady stream of TV commercials Mattel has produced for Barbie since her debut, it’s not too surprising some celebrities got their big breaks via Barbie commercials.
Over her 60 years, Barbie has held a stunning number of jobs, spanning the arts, business, politics, and science. You probably didn’t know that Barbie has experience as a sign language teacher, a UNICEF ambassador, a Canadian Mountie, and a rapper. Imagine how long her resume is.
And we’re not just talking dogs and cats either. The Things reports Barbie has had 21 dogs, 14 horses, six cats, three ponies, a parrot, a panda, a chimpanzee, a giraffe, and a zebra. And in the farm vet set pictured, we also see a few lambs and chicks.
Actually, Barbie has a long history of being an animal lover. In 2015, with the rise 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.”
After being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy, Handler helped to design and develop a high-quality breast prostheses for other breast cancer survivors in the ’70s. The result was Nearly Me, which has been making prosthetic breasts and other post-mastectomy products for more than 40 years.
Barbie originally sold for $2.99 and today, she costs about $10 on average. But not the Stefani Canturi Barbie, named after its designer.
This doll had an actual diamond necklace designed by Stefano Canturi that featured 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 Ms. Canturi the most expensive Barbie ever sold.
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. Plus, 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.
After 43 years together, Barbie and Ken famously called it quits in 2004, just before Valentine’s Day. A Mattel spokesperson told the Associated Press 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.
Barbie has generated controversy throughout her history, but 2015 saw one of the weirder debates about the doll. That year, Mattel launched Hello Barbie, which allowed its owner to ask her 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 the owner’s home, overhearing their conversations.
Talk about persistent. Barbie has run for president every election year since 1992, excluding the 1996 cycle. Barbie took her progressive campaign a step further in 2016, running with 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,” Barbie general manager’s said in a statement. “We see this doll set as a timely and topical platform to further the conversation around female leadership.”
Guinness World Records
Barbie has thousands of dedicated collectors. But her biggest is a German woman named Bettina Dorfmann, who has amassed more than 15,000 dolls since receiving her first as a five year old in 1966.
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