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History of the Barbie doll

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three Barbie dolls
Check out the history of the ultimate fashion doll: Barbie!
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After 53 years, Barbie is still going strong

Whether you see her as a symbol of the idealized women, or a bad role model for little girls, Barbie is a part of the American culture. In fact, most of us never lived in a world without Barbies.

But what is the history of the Barbie doll? When and how did she burst onto the American toy scene, and how has she changed since that first launch?

The birth of the Barbie

Barbie was officially born on March 9th, 1959 as the brainchild of Ruth Handler. Ms. Handler had come up with the idea of an adult fashion doll some years earlier, but her concept was not well received by toy makers who believed that little girls preferred baby dolls. After a trip to Germany where she saw other adult-styled dolls, Handler convinced Mattel to give the new doll a try.

Barbie was unveiled at the 1959 American International Toy Show in New York, wearing her now-signature black and white swim suit, and sporting a perky ponytail in blond or brunette.

The Barbie family grows

Although she spent the first few years of her life alone, Barbie's boyfriend Ken appeared in 1961. In 1964, her little sister Skipper joined the Barbie doll family, and 1966 cousin Francie and Barbie's young twin sister and brother Tutti and Todd were introduced.

The next family member appeared in 1988, when Jazzie, another cousin was introduced. In 1990, Stacie joined as a little sister, and a second Todd appeared. But this time he was the twin brother to Stacie instead of Tutti. Kelly, yet another little sister was added in 1995, and infant baby sister Krissy made her appearance in 1999. In 2004, little sister Kelly was replaced with a same-age little sister Chelsea.

Barbie's love life

Despite their long history together and the huge number of wedding gown outfits, Mattel never had Barbie and Ken marry and have children of their own (although there was a pregnant Barbie at one point.) In fact, in 2004, the two split according to the company's story line, and a new boyfriend doll Blaine was introduced.

The Barbie circle of friends

Midge was Barbie's first friend, with her launch in 1963. Like Barbie, Midge was packaged in a swim suit, encouraging little girls to immediately want clothing and accessories for her. Midge and Barbie shared the same body shape, so the clothing was interchangeable.

Midge's boyfriend Allen was added in 1964. In 1968, Christie and Stacey (not to be confused with Stacie, Barbie's sister) joined the crowd, and from there the number of Barbie friend dolls expanded. Primary dolls in the collection (like Skipper, Ken and Francie) had friends of their own, as the popularity of the Barbie brand grew.

The evolution of Barbie

When the Barbie doll was first introduced, the concept was to provide a fashion doll that could be dressed in a variety of fashionable outfits. But as the role of women evolved, so did Barbie's image. 

Although Barbie retained her oft criticized shape, she moved from the Dream House to the White House, the airline cockpit, and classroom.  Various versions of Barbie have placed her in occupations as varied as veterinarian, pediatrician, dentist, firefighter, ambassador, NASCAR driver, and Special Ed teacher.

Barbie in a world of electronic toys and video games

With the shift from imagination playthings to electronics and video games, many predicted that the Barbie doll and other toys like her would disappear from the shelves and the Christmas lists of little girls. 

But Barbie has proved resilient, and Mattel has evolved the Barbie line to incorporate newer technology within the classic line of dolls, clothes and accessories.

Barbie videos, games and interactive websites keep young fans engaged.  Dolls that mirror the diversity in today's world allow girls to celebrate their uniqueness, from skin color to language to disabilities.

And sales continue to grow,  with kids and collectors alike shopping for the next addition to the Barbie line. While the future Barbie might look or act different than the one on the toy store shelf today, it's clear that the history of the Barbie doll is far from finished.

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