Why Barbie wasn’t invented by a toy company

Why Barbie wasn’t invented by a toy company

The ‘Barbie’ doll was first launched in 1959 by the American toy company Mattel.

Since then they have sold over a billion Barbie dolls, making it the company's largest and most profitable line and one of the most successful toys of all time.

Based on this information, it would be safe to assume that it was the brainchild of a clever employee who suggested it in a morning meeting?

Except that’s not the case.

The idea for Barbie came from a woman named Ruth Handler.

The wife of a Mattel executive, she was on holiday in Europe with her family when she noticed a doll in the window which looked like this…


The ‘Bild Lilli’ doll was introduced in 1955 and targeted middle-aged men in Germany. She was based on a comic strip character from the newspaper ‘Bild’, hence her name.

At the time, Bild Lillis were only allowed to be sold in bars and tobacconists as they weren’t considered appropriate for children.

From observing her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, Ruth noticed that she enjoyed giving them adult roles.

At the time, most toy dolls were of infants.

Ruth suggested there was an opportunity to adapt Bild Lilli for American girls.

Despite the initial hesitation to this radical idea, Mattel did finally see sense and produced their own version.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that without the curious and questioning nature of Ruth Handler, an outsider, Mattel would not be the company it is today.

The ability to think creatively is what leads to breakthrough ideas. To learn more about creativity and how to apply it to your own business try our Creativity for Business course.

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