33 Incredible Facts You Never Knew About Barbie
This Barbie trivia starts at the beginning of the iconic plastic doll's fascinating journey.
Barbie may look young, but the iconic doll actually turned 60 in 2019. And while she's one of the most well-known toys the world has ever seen, there are still many facts about Barbie that are hardly common knowledge. She's lived a life in plastic that's truly fantastic. Keep reading to learn some interesting tidbits about the world's most famous fashionable doll.
Barbie was inspired by a German gag gift.
While Barbie may seem as American as apple pie, she was modeled after a 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 Lilli doll inspired by these comics was meant as 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."
She was also inspired by paper dolls.
We have Barbara Handler, daughter of Mattel co-founders Ruth and Elliot, to thank for Barbie. When Barbara was a child, she would play with paper dolls for hours on end. According to Mattel's website, "this sparked Ruth's vision to create a 3-D doll for girls to play out their dreams."
And her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.
In honor of her source of inspiration—her daughter Barbara—Handler named the Barbie doll Barbara Millicent Roberts. Ironically, though, 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."
Barbie was co-designed by a missile engineer.
When it came time to create Barbie, Handler assigned Mattel designer Jack Ryan to the task. A Yale alum, 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 helping to create Barbie.
He was also married Zsa Zsa Gabor.
After designing the original Barbie doll, Jack Ryan married Gilligan's Island actress Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1975. At 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.
Barbie brought Mattel legal troubles from the very beginning.
Barbie was introduced to the world on March 9, 1959, at the New York Toy Fair. And 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.
Barbie is from Wisconsin, not Malibu.
According to Mattel's official Barbie website, Barbie is from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin. And even though it'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.
Ads aired during The Mickey Mouse Club helped make Barbie a hit.
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. She became a hit as soon as the commercials were in regular rotation.
Many celebrities starred in Barbie commercials before they were famous.
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. Mila Kunis, Fergie, and The Brady Bunch's Maureen McCormick are just some of the celebs who appeared in ads for the doll before they became household names themselves.
The original Barbie was sold as both a blonde and a brunette.
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."
And she didn't smile until 12 years after her debut.
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. Her pearly whites really sparkled against her suntanned skin!
Ken is two years younger than Barbie.
Ken made his debut on March 11, 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 named after siblings.
The original Ken was shirtless.
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.
Barbie had a rebound relationship while she was broken up from Ken.
After 43 years together, Barbie and Ken famously called it quits 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.
Barbie has had many siblings come and go over the years.
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 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.
She also has relatives in the U.K.
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.
Barbie's friend Christie was the first African-American doll in the Barbie universe.
Christie is one of Barbie's oldest friends. She was also the first African-American Barbie doll, introduced as part of the Talking Barbie line of dolls in 1968. Except for a brief exodus in the 2000s, Christie been a part of the extended Barbie-verse ever since her launch.
The first celebrity Barbie was based on the model Twiggy.
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.
Barbie's first job was "teenage fashion model."
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.
But since then, she has had about 200 different careers.
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. 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.
Over the years, Barbie has had more than 40 pets.
According to The Things, she 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 above, we also see a few lambs and chicks.
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."
Ruth Handler helped develop a prosthetic breast for reconstructive surgery.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy in the 1970s, Ruth Handler helped design and develop a high-quality breast prosthesis for other breast cancer survivors with the company Nearly Me Technologies LLC, which has now been making prosthetic breasts and other post-mastectomy products for more than 40 years.
Barbie has run for president six times.
Talk about persistent. 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."
Barbie went to "went to space" four years before the moon landing.
On July 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."
Totally Hair Barbie is the best-selling version of the doll to date.
According to Guinness World Records, the best-selling Barbie 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 insane success.
Barbie's dream house is "worth" $25 million.
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.
A Barbie doll is sold every three seconds.
In 2003, Fortune claimed 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.
A Siri-like Barbie was once accused of spying on her owners.
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.
The biggest Barbie collector in the world has 15,000 dolls.
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.
The most expensive Barbie sold for more than $300,000.
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.
Oscar de la Renta was the first fashion designer to work with Barbie.
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 like Christian Louboutin, Givenchy, Coach, Dior, and Vera Wang.
Andy Warhol used Barbie as inspiration for one of his portraits.
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 off of 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.
Barbie held her first runway show in New York in 2009.
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.