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Barbie

All right, ladies, another one for you.

Barbie and I have a lot in common. We're both 47 years old. But I fear that I haven't held on to my youth quite as well as she has held on to hers.

Barbie was born in 1959. But her story begins the previous decade.

A married couple named Ruth and Elliot Handler had a successful picture frame business. Elliot began taking scraps of frame wood and making doll furniture out of them. The toys were a hit, and in 1945, they decided to go into toymaking full time.

That year, they entered into a business partnership with friend Harold Mattson. The business that they formed was called Mattel, a combination of their names.

Ten years later, while on vacation in Switzerland, Ruth obtained a German Lilli doll. Lilli was a newspaper cartoon character popular in Germany. She was molded out of plastic, had a fancy wardrobe that she could wear, and Ruth loved her. She decided Mattel needed to make their own version.

So, she came back home and put her engineers to work producing a shapely, beautiful doll 11 1/2" tall with movable arms and legs. She would have her own wardrobe of clothing, jewelry, shoes, and other accessories.

Barbie went on sale in 1959, after Mattel obtained a patent for the doll the previous year. Her debut was at the American Toy Fair in New York City. The showgoers were not impressed.

But who cares? Girls went crazy for her. That first year, 315,000 were sold at $3.00 each.

As sales continued to soar, Mattel introduced Ken in 1961. Girls had been wanting a boyfriend for Barbie, so Mattel scored big again.

Incidentally, Ruth and Elliot's two children, born in the forties, were named Barbie and Ken.

As Barbie and Ken got more and more popular, the accessories and friends began to multiply. Friendwise, during the 60's, Midge, Allan, Skipper, Ricky, and many more joined young female America's favorite couple. The line was racially diverse early in the game. Francie (a darker colored doll produced from the same mold as Barbie) was released in 1967, and Christie (made from a more African-American looking mold) was released the next year. A Hispanic version was introduced in 1980.

And the accessories! Barbie had clothes for every occasion, but she also boasted cars, furniture, appliances, dishes, and dream houses. The dream houses have had many incarnations over the years, responding to current hot trends.

Barbie rises far above many of the toys we grew up with in one important respect: she sells as briskly today as she did in the 60's! Every generation of girls wants Barbies. Indeed, she has become a part of our culture, appearing in movies, TV shows, books, plays, and ALMOST in commercials for other products. A great Nissan commercial from 1997 shows a G.I. Joe looking character picking up a female doll and speeding off, much to a preppie-looking male doll's dismay. But it was proven in court that it wasn't Barbie and Ken involved. Yeesh.

Speaking of eye-rollers, in 2003, Saudi Arabia outlawed the sale of Barbie dolls, saying that she did not conform to the ideals of Islam. The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated "Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful."

It's a shame people can't just relax and enjoy a wonderful toy that's been around as long as I have.

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