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The Company Behind Barbie

Mattel, Inc. is an American toy company with global operations, most known for its iconic Barbie dolls. These dolls have become some of the most popular children's toys of all time, seeing continuous success since their introduction during the late 1950s. Besides Barbie, the company also produces a variety of other toys and games. Mattel is headquartered in El Segundo, California, and its shares are listed on the Nasdaq.

The Story of Barbie and Mattel

The story of Barbie begins with Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband, Elliot, and their business partner, Harold "Matt" Matson, in 1945. The inspiration for Barbie came to Ruth in the late 1950s when she noticed her daughter, Barbara, playing with paper dolls and imagining them in adult roles during a time when most children's dolls were representations of infants. Ruth envisioned a doll that could project an adult or teenage girl's future self, offering an opportunity for play in which children could envision themselves in adult roles.

While on a trip to Europe in 1956, Ruth encountered a German doll named Bild Lilli, which was unlike any doll she had seen in the United States. Bild Lilli was based on a popular comic strip character and was marketed as an adult novelty item, but Ruth saw potential in adapting a similar concept for children. She bought three of them: one for her daughter and two for study back home.

Ruth's idea faced skepticism within Mattel, as well as from bankers who doubted its market potential. However, she persisted, and with the help of engineer Jack Ryan, Mattel developed the Barbie doll, named after Ruth's daughter, Barbara. Barbie made her debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959 (considered Barbie's official birthday). The first Barbie doll wore a black-and-white striped swimsuit and had her hair in a ponytail. She was marketed as a "Teen-age Fashion Model," and her clothing was created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The initial reception was lukewarm, but Barbie's popularity soared after Mattel launched a television advertising campaign, a novel strategy for toy marketing at the time.

Expanding the Barbie Line

Barbie's success led to an expansive product line, including a variety of dolls with different identities, professions, and backgrounds, as well as an extensive range of accessories, playsets, and vehicles Over the decades, Barbie has become a cultural icon, and Mattel has continuously updated the dolls and launched a massive amount of different models.

Not Just Barbie

Besides Barbie, which is the main IP and what Mattel is most known for, the company also owns and produces other toys. One of the most recognizable lines of toys is Hot Wheels, small collectible cars that can be raced around purpose-built tracks. The company also owns the popular Uno card game, operates a number of subsidiaries, and has licensing agreements with Disney and World Wrestling Entertainment.