On this day: Barbie’s first appearance

March 9 1959: Birth of a blonde bombshell

By Jennifer Lipman, March 9, 2011

Love her for her perfect smile or loathe her for her impossibly tiny waist, did you know Barbra Millicent Roberts had Jewish roots?

The doll was created by Ruth Handler, a Colorado-born Jewish woman whose parents were Polish immigrants.

At 21, she married Elliot Handler, a co-founder of what became toy company Mattel. She dreamed up the doll after noticing the playtime habits of their daughter Barbara and finding a template from a German doll.

Ruth developed the doll and “Barbie”, named after the couple’s daughter, debuted at the New York toy fair on March 9, 1959. On-off boyfriend Ken, named in honour of her son, followed soon after. The couple ran the company for years, although in 1978 the family lost control of the firm and Ruth was convicted in a fraud case.

Ruth survived breast cancer in the 1970s and became an ambassador for the illness, working to help create and sell prosthetic breasts. She died in 2002, but Barbie, forever young, remains one of the world’s most popular and identifiable toys.

Of her creation, she once said: “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices."

What the JC said: Earlier this year, a Jewish woman called Ruth Handler died, aged 85. She is not someone whose name will mean anything to many children, yet she created one of the most popular dolls the world has ever known... Barbie…The doll became a worldwide success, and little girls everywhere suddenly had an inspirational role model, but made out of plastic. Barbie could be anything in her amazing selection of outfits, from astronaut to veterinary surgeon. Generations of girls received their first ideas about different careers from playing with their Barbie dolls.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 10:19am, March 9 2011