Barbie Dolls - History, Controversy and Success

Barbie is Mattel, Inc. doll princess and one of the oldest franchises that have remained quite relevant even in the modern day of dolls. You can consider Barbie the most successful doll of her day as well. She is the brand figure of a family of dolls and accessory items from Mattel that has since expanded to accommodate other collectible items as well.

The popular product is a major part of the toy fashion revolution and has been a subject to a number of parodies and stories as well as controversies and even lawsuits which have trailed the doll which is perhaps the very first to take up imagery and identity never before seen in other dolls.

barbie dolls

History of Barbie

Yet, one could say that Barbie’s journey to the limelight wasn’t entirely a planned journey. While Mattel made dolls for kids their items were also made to look like babies just like other similar toys of the day. It wasn’t until Ruth Handler who was the wife of one of the co-founders of the American toy company discover the void left in the toy industry by the focus on baby-themed dolls did Barbie come alive to take over the scene even then, Ruth’s husband and the rest of Mattel were not enthusiastic about her idea.

Ruth had noticed that against the reasoning of the day, her daughter while playing with paper dolls preferred to assign adult roles to them. Then during a trip to Europe in the year 1956 with her kids, she came across a German Adult-figured doll with the name Bild Lilli it became the prototype which Mantel developed upon to bring Barbie to life. The product was redesigned and was eventually named after Barbara, Ruth’s daughter.

Early days and Now

When Barbie made her debut on the 9th of March 1959, the toy was designed with a striped black and white swimsuit and had a signature ponytail. The first Barbie dolls were available either as blonds or brunette.

Barbie was first introduced as a “teenage fashion model”. And she became an instant superstar, the very first year of its production, more than 350,000 of the dolls were sold.

Today, Barbie is Mattel’s largest and most lucrative line. The company has sold more a billion copies of the doll. Its looks have been changed on so many occasions. Sometimes to address a raging controversy and on other occasions simply as a marketing strategy.


Along with its popularity, the Barbie franchise is one that has seen many controversies. Just two years after its debut, Louis Marx and Company the company that made Lilli, Barbie’s surrogate prototype sued Mattel for infringement.

There were also numerous concerns about Barbie’s appearance as well. Some parent had issues with Mattel's decision to give the doll adult feminine features. The girl toy was also subject to an identity as many complained that it portrayed an unrealistic image of what a woman should look like. There were also concerns about the safety of vinyl used in making the doll in the past.


Despite all the controversies surrounding its origin and image. The Barbie doll has indeed grown to be more than just a toy for kids. It became a cultural icon and has had a direct influence on the world of toys and of humans. Following concerns about Barbie being a positive role model for kids Mattel rolled out a line of dolls called “sheroes” showcasing Barbie in different roles and professions. Until completion from Bratz dolls pushed the figures down in 2004, the popular product was in total control of the fashion toy market.

Barbie is popular both as a toy as well as a collector item. According to recent estimates, about 90% of its collectors are women and they spend as much as $1000 a year each on purchasing up to twenty dolls each.

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