Barbie Inventor Dead at 85

ByABC News
April 29, 2002, 5:37 AM

April 29 -- Ruth Handler, creator of the world's most famous doll, died on Saturday at the age of 85 of complications from colon surgery.

Handler invented Barbie, a doll that became a cultural icon, and was even buried in America's official time capsule in 1976.

She said her doll, one of the first to sport a womanly figure, was a tough sell at first.

"They didn't think that the public would accept a doll with breasts for children," she said. "I knew they were wrong."

Handler knew because she watched her own daughter playing with paper cutouts of adult dolls, at a time when most little girls were playing with baby dolls.

Her daughter, Barbara, would give the soon-to-be-famous doll its name, and her son, Ken, would lend his name to Barbie's pal.

An Instant Smash

It took Handler a couple of years to convince the male executives at the Mattel toy company a firm she co-founded that the time was right for Barbie. But when Barbie went into production in 1959, she was an instant hit selling 350,000 dolls at $3 each in her first year.

Since then, a billion Barbies have been sold in 150 countries.

Born to Polish immigrants, Handler started Mattel with her husband, Elliot, in a rented workshop in California. The company had early success selling toy guns and ukuleles for children, but it was Barbie that launched the empire.

Unrealistic Expectations?

Critics say Barbie presents girls with unrealistic expectations: her measurements, if she were turned into a human-sized figure, would be 39-18-33.

But Handler said Barbie represented everything a girl could be.

"Barbie was never to be anything but a reflection of what that little girl wanted to be," she said Handler.

The doll has changed with the times: She has gotten a little heavier, and today comes in every color if not every size.

She's also in nearly every profession.

Tough Times

Handler left the Mattel in the 1970s after being indicted with other company executives for hiding losses.