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Barbie Celebrates 50 Years

For a woman of a “certain age,” Barbie looks pretty good—well preserved, in fact.

Would you believe that the lithe lady remains as popular as ever, raking in a whopping $3.6 billion annually in retail sales?

A fixture in toy cupboards around the world, Barbie is an enduring icon introduced to the world in 1959 at the New York Toy Fair. More than one billion dolls have been sold since, according to the doll’s maker, Mattel. Weathering controversy over the decades, Barbie continues to remain a hit with girls across America and the globe.

“She is everything that America’s little girls want to be when they cross over into Teenland,” wrote author William K. Zinsser in the article “Barbie is a million-dollar doll” that appeared in the December 12, 1964, issue of the Post.

At that time, Mattel reported that Barbie “employed” a personal secretary to answer her mail, along with 15 other people who ran the Barbie Fan Club, which boasted 8,500 chapters and half a million members.

Decades later, Barbie remains more popular than ever with children and adults alike.

“The Barbie revolution was inspired ten years ago by a real Barbie, the then 13-year-old daughter of Elliot and Ruth Handler, owners of Mattel,” writes Zinsser. “At that time the Handlers were manufacturers of plastic doll furniture.”

Ruth found that whenever she took Barbie into a dime store, she would buy paper dolls like Tillie the Toiler, then go home and spend hours cutting out the costumes and dressing the dolls. She also tried to dress real dolls, but they were clumsy and weren’t meant to wear clothes that had any real style. Handler thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a three-dimensional fashion doll?”

Well, the idea obviously caught on.

Although eligible for AARP, Barbie remains as youthful as ever, keeping busy during the years, with 108 careers and counting.

Happy Birthday, Barbie!

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  • Jesuit

    Typically, Ken gets not even a mention.

  • Amanda

    As a 30-year-old collector I’m fascinated by the longevity of Barbie. I have collected more than 100 and will continue to do so. Glad to know the history of the doll and the motivation behind its invention.
    Good article.