Ruth Marianna Handler (née Mosko; November 4, 1916 – April 27, 2002) was an American businesswoman and inventor. She is best known for inventing the Barbie doll in 1959,[2] and being co-founder of toy manufacturer Mattel with her husband Elliot, as well as serving as the company's first president from 1945 to 1975.[3]

Ruth Handler
Handler in 1961
Ruth Marianna Mosko

(1916-11-04)November 4, 1916
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
DiedApril 27, 2002(2002-04-27) (aged 85)[1]
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationPresident of Mattel (1945–1975)
Notable workBarbie
SuccessorRobert A. Eckert
(m. 1938)
ChildrenBarbara and Kenneth

The Handlers were forced to resign from Mattel in 1975 after the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the company for falsifying financial documents.[3][4]

Early life edit

Ruth Marianna Mosko[5][2][3] was born on November 4, 1916, in Denver, Colorado, to Polish-Jewish immigrants Jacob Moskowicz, a blacksmith, and Ida Moskowicz, née Rubenstein.[6] She was the youngest of ten children.[3] When Ruth was six months old, her parents sent her to live with her older sister Sarah, and she stayed with them until she turned nineteen.[3] This was when she first developed her enthusiasm for business, after working in Sarah’s drugstore/soda fountain.[3]

In 1932, Ruth Handler fell in love with an art student named Izzy Handler.[3] The summer of her sophomore year at University of Denver, Ruth went to Los Angeles and landed a job at Paramount Studio. After a few years, Izzy and Ruth got married in 1938 in Denver. Returning to California, Handler encouraged her husband to drop the stereotypical “Izzy” in favor of his middle name, Elliot.[3] After marriage, Ruth returned to work at Paramount while Elliot was working as a lighting fixture designer.

Formation of Mattel edit

Elliot tried his hand at a hobby of furniture making. He decided to make their furniture out of two new types of plastics, Lucite and Plexiglas. Ruth Handler suggested that he start doing this commercially and they began a furniture business. Ruth Handler worked as the sales force for the new business, landing contracts with Douglas Aircraft Company and others.[7]

Origin edit

Ruth Handler saw the potential for an entrepreneurial endeavor. They went into partnership with Harold "Matt" Matson. The Handlers started the company, together with their business partner, Harold Matson. A name was chosen for the company: Mattel (a combination of the surname Matson and first name Elliot).[8] According to Elliot, the founders could not fit Ruth's name into the name of the company.[9] During World War II, furniture sales fell so Mattel began to manufacture toy furniture. The success of this business caused Ruth and Elliott to move Mattel fully into toy manufacturing.

Barbie edit

As Ruth observed her daughter Barbara and friends play with paper dolls, role-playing adult scenarios, she noticed a market void.[8] The dolls available at that time mainly featured babies or toddlers, lacking representations of adults.

During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli.[10][11] The adult-figured doll was exactly what Ruth had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a satirical comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.[12]

Upon her return to the United States, Ruth redesigned the doll (with help from local inventor-designer Jack Ryan). She named the first Barbie doll Barbie Millicent Roberts, after her daughter Barbara and said she came from Willows, Wisconsin. Premiering at the American International Toy Fair in New York City on March 9, 1959,[13] the first Barbie doll cost $3 and was an instant hit.[14] In its first year, 300,000 Barbie dolls were sold.[14]

Later, the Handlers and Mattel added a boyfriend for Barbie named Ken, after the Handlers' son[15], followed by a huge range of Barbie dolls being released, such as Barbie with over 125 different careers.[8] Barbie wasn't just a representation; she was known for her versatility and fashion. Expanding the line after its initial success, Ruth Handler added cars, sports gear, clothes, and doll furniture to Barbie's collection.

Later years edit

Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1970. To combat this, she had a modified radical mastectomy, which was often used at the time to combat the disease. She spent less time at Mattel to focus on improving her health. Her loss of self-esteem affected her leadership and she lost control of her own business. In an interview in 1980, she explained to a reporter, “When I conceived Barbie, I believed it was important to a little girl’s self-esteem to play with a doll that has breasts. Now I find it even more important to return that self-esteem to women who have lost theirs.”[3]

Due to difficulties in finding a good breast prosthesis, Handler decided to make her own. With the help of new business partner Peyton Massey, and under her new company Ruthton Corp., Handler manufactured a more realistic version of a woman's breast called "Nearly Me", aiming to boost confidence for women regardless of their health condition. This invention became quite popular, and then-first lady Betty Ford was personally fitted for one.

Ruth Handler received various awards for her active engagement in philanthropy and business activities. She earned titles like Woman of the Year in Business (Los Angeles Times), entry into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame (Toy Manufacturers of America), the Volunteer Achievement Award (American Cancer Society), and was the inaugural "Woman of Distinction" recognized by the United Jewish Appeal.[3]

Following several investigations of producing fraudulent financial reports, Handler resigned from Mattel in 1975. Investigations continued after her resignation, and, in 1978, Handler was charged with fraud and false reporting to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She pleaded no contest, and was fined $57,000 (equivalent to $260,000 in 2022[16]) and sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service. She blamed her illness for making her "unfocused" on her business.

Handler died in California from complications of surgery for colon cancer on April 27, 2002, aged 85.[17] Her husband Elliot died nine years later at the age of 95.

In popular culture edit

Handler is portrayed by Rhea Perlman in the 2023 film Barbie,[18] where she is depicted in her elder years as a ghost who resides at Mattel headquarters in Los Angeles and helps the protagonist, who is her stereotypical Barbie model (played by Margot Robbie).

References edit

  1. ^ Kershaw, Sarah (April 29, 2002). "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Ruth Handler, Barbie Doll Invention". Famous Women Inventors. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Altman, Julie (March 20, 2009). "Ruth Mosko Handler". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved January 7, 2015.
  4. ^ Castellitto, Linda M. (February 22, 2009). "Scandal tainted long career of Barbie's creator". ABC News. Retrieved July 6, 2023.
  5. ^ "Collection: Papers of Ruth Handler, 1931-2002". HOLLIS Archives. Harvard University Press. Retrieved July 23, 2015.
  6. ^ Cross, Mary (2013). 100 People Who Changed 20th-Century America, Volume 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 337. ISBN 9781610690867.
  7. ^ "Who Made America?: Ruth Handler". PBS. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c Haynes, Ian (August 15, 2023). "The brains behind Barbie: A look at the entrepreneurial journey of Ruth Handler". ASBN Small Business Network. Retrieved December 4, 2023.
  9. ^ "History of Mattel by Robert Eckert". Youtube. September 9, 2012.
  10. ^ Javaid, Maham (May 25, 2023). "Barbie's 'pornographic' origin story, as told by historians - A new trailer for the Barbie movie shows her visiting the real world. In reality, the doll was based on a German sex toy called Lilli". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on May 26, 2023. Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  11. ^ In an interview with Mary G. Lord, the author of Forever Barbie, Ruth Handler said that she saw the doll in Lucerne, Switzerland. However, the book points out that on other occasions Handler said that she saw the doll in Zurich or Vienna.
  12. ^ "Meet Lilli, the High-end German Call Girl Who Became America's Iconic Barbie Doll". Messy Nessy. January 29, 2016. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  13. ^ "Ruth Mosko Handler unveils Barbie Doll". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  14. ^ a b "Ruth Handler: The Entrepreneur Who Created Barbie". History Hit. Retrieved December 4, 2023.
  15. ^ "Barbie Through the Ages". HISTORY. July 14, 2023. Retrieved July 31, 2023.
  16. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved May 28, 2023.
  17. ^ "Creator of Barbie dies at 85". USA Today. Associated Press. April 28, 2002. Archived from the original on October 2, 2022. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  18. ^ Paskin, Willa (July 11, 2023). "Greta Gerwig's 'Barbie' Dream Job". The New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on July 11, 2023. Retrieved July 11, 2023.

Further reading edit

  • Forman-Brunell, Miriam. "Barbie in" LIFE": The Life of Barbie." Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 2.3 (2009): 303-311. online
  • Gerber, Robin. Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her. Harper/Collins, 2008.
  • Weissman, Kristin Noelle. Barbie: The Icon, the Image, the Ideal: An Analytical Interpretation of the Barbie Doll in Popular Culture (1999).
  • Wepman, Dennis. "Handler, Ruth" American National Biography (2000) online

External links edit