timeline

born 1916

Ruth Handler was a regular go-getter. The youngest of 10 siblings, she landed her first job {as a secretary for Paramount Pictures} while vacationing in LA. When she married her childhood sweetheart, her parents thought she was throwing away her life on a "starving artist." Instead, the two played perfectly to each other's strengths in marketing + design, partnering up to found 3 pioneering plastics companies from their own garage. Their last startup would grow to become the US's largest toy manufacturer. 

The secret behind Mattel's huge success? Ruth's uncanny ability to anticipate a trend. When she first pitched Barbie in 1959, no one thought the busty "teenage fashion model" would fly in a market dominated by baby dolls. Not only was Ruth's Barbie an instant success, it quickly became a pop-culture icon + touchstone for feminist debates. More than 5 decades + 150 Barbie-careers later, Ruth's brainchild remains one of the world's best-selling toys.

bio bits

her quotes

all quotes by Ruth Handler (11)

"Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future. If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest."

The New York Times | 1977

"I was really depressed. But I felt even worse when I went looking for a good prosthesis. I tried every breast on the market. They were globs; there were no rights or lefts. You wouldn't think of putting your right shoe on your left foot, would you?"

Barbie Doll Developer Offers a New Look to Mastectomy Victims | april 1977

"I couldn't just screech to a halt after racing all my life."

Barbie Doll Developer Ruth Handler Offers a New Look to Mastectomy Victims | april 1977

"Give a good squeeze. Can you feel the difference?"

Barbie Doll Developer Offers a New Look to Mastectomy Victims | april 1977

"I've lived my life from breast to breast."

a favorite personal joke | post-1976

"Unlike play with a baby doll—in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy—Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices."

Dream Doll | 1994

"As a child, Barbara longed for an 'ordinary' life. Her definition of such a life included a mother who was always available, always home. And though I dearly loved my children...and made them my first priority, the staying home part just wasn't in my makeup."

Dream Doll | 1994

"Staying home...just wasn't in my makeup."

Dream Doll | 1994

"Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices."

Dream Doll | 1994

"I loved the challenge of selling. Adrenaline surged through me whenever I walked into a store with samples and walked out with an order."

Dream Doll | 1994

"I like to think of my life as an impossible dream. We've had a lot of nightmares, but we've always been able to pick up and move on."

Allied Jewish Federation meeting | 1996
  • Quotabelle profile
  • Ruth Handler

curated with care by Alicia Williamson