Barbie burst on the scene in March 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City. The 11.5-inch-tall Barbie dolls were the brainchild of Ruth Handler, who, along with her husband Elliot, founded Mattel in 1945. Barbie had “rooted hair, flesh-toned skin, and movable arms, legs, and head.”

The Daily Telegraph – May 3, 2002

The idea for Barbie came after Ruth watched her daughter Barbara (Barbie’s namesake) playing “grown up” with teenage paper dolls. She noticed that Barbara loved to change the doll’s paper outfits. At the time, the dolls on the market portrayed either babies or young girls. Ruth thought an older doll would be a hit. It took Mattel designers six years to create Barbie, and her physical appearance was based on a German doll that was a risqué gag gift for men. The idea of a mature doll with a curvy figure shocked many toy buyers, who rejected Barbie. Ruth and Elliot were not deterred. Instead, they took Barbie straight to the public through television ads. The gamble worked, and Barbie quickly grew in popularity.  

The Birmingham News – November 26, 1959

The earliest ad for Barbie that appears in our archives is in July 1959. Within months, Barbie topped many Christmas lists. In 1961, Ruth designed Barbie’s male counterpart, Ken (named after Ruth’s son Kenneth).

Barbie’s meteoric rise continued, and Mattel added accessories like the Barbie dream house, sports cars, and more clothing. Next came new dolls like Barbie’s best friend, Midge, and little sister, Skipper. Starting in 1968, Barbie added dolls from different races, beginning with the Black Christie doll.

Barbie is entering her 65th year. She has evolved in appearance over the years and has had hundreds of careers ranging from pilot to politician. Some praise her for helping women break through the glass ceiling, while others criticize Barbie for sexualizing girls and promoting unrealistic body types.

The Edmond Sun – December 25, 1962

In the early 2000s, Barbie struggled to stay relevant as other toy companies began manufacturing dolls with more diversity. In 2020, Mattel released its most diverse doll line ever as Barbie struggled to reinvent herself. Nobody can dispute Barbie’s popularity; she is one of the top-selling toys of all time. Her summer movie is expected to be a blockbuster.

Did you love to play with Barbies when you were young? If you want to learn more about Barbie, search™ today.

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51 thoughts on “Barbie Through the Years

  1. How about a Barbie play set with her looking at on a pink laptop?

  2. Barbie was my last doll. I loved playing with her, so different from baby dolls. I learned to sew clothes for her and loved her accessories. I let her hair down once, and discovered the rooted hair was superficial and she was nearly bald. Needless to say I hastily put that ponytail back! My daughter and grand daughters all played with Barbies, including my original Barbie, but the heavy eyeliner aged her despite the perfect figure. The girls always made her be the Mom during playtime.

  3. I received my one & only Barbie for my 9th birthday in 1962. I still have her & wish I had had a daughter or granddaughter to share her with!

  4. I have an extensive collection of Barbie dolls; my favorites are the Bob Mackie designed dolls and the Lucille Ball line.

    I make other collectors clutch their pearls because I “debox” them – I collect dolls, not boxes!

  5. I have my original Barbie…her name was Midge and she had black curly hair like Jackie Kennedy. My babysitter made a lot of the clothes for her and my Ken doll. I still have both and all of the clothing…including a fur stole and Ken’s sandals and bathing suit set. I have two vintage Barbie cases where their clothes hung on little plastic hangers that I still have.

  6. My grandma made all my Barbie clothes and said she’d never do it again. Too much tiny detail!

    1. Every Xmas and Easter, my maternal grandmother— a sewing teacher — would see me and my Barbie matching outfits!

      1. i have so many dolls and i love playing with them and i wish i had someone to share them with

    2. My mom made lots of beautiful clothes for my Barbie dolls, and I loved them, but I spent much more time building a whole town (for my Dawn dolls) on the steps to my bedroom. So, she made some tiny clothes for them, to!

    3. Me and my sister use to make furniture for them. Couches out of cardboard and stuffing and would glue on the fabric and sew the cushions, beds with custom headboards made out of cardboard but the headboards had painted decoration or cutout decorations… all sorts of stuff.

  7. I was too old for Barbies but my young sister wasn’t. She adored them – made clothes for them and eventually went to college, majoring in costume design. She still designs clothing and teaches design as well.
    Thanks Barbie!!

  8. I am too old to have played with a Barbie doll, but I made an extensive line of clothing for my nieces’ dolls. They had almost all of “friends” available in the 60s and we had a complete wedding party. I even made fur coats out of scraps of real fur found on the remnent rack at the fabric store. At the time I made my own clothes so had a lot of scrap fabric just right for doll clothes. I agree with Barbara Wunder McAslan’s grandmother that the clothes are difficult to make because of the tiny details.

  9. I’m pretty sure I had one of the original dolls with the black stripes bathing suit and blonde hair. Over the years I played with it. I made accessories out of things around the house. My Mom made clothes for it. I played with her and my sisters had Skipper and we had a Ken doll. I believe my pink case and all the contents were misplaced during one of my family’s moves. My granddaughter played with second hand Barbies and the big doll house at my house. Great memories!

  10. My young sister absolutely adored her – it was probably the clothes-making as much as Barbie herself. It carried her on thru life. I believe that the things kids love can do that. It certainly happened w my own three children as well.
    For Christmas one year, I gave my sister the case she used to carry Barbie around in. She said “I used to have one just like that!” I told her that it was the very same. She cried and cried –
    I’m so sorry yours got misplaced –

  11. I got my first Barbie in 1959, in the original box and wearing that black and white swim suit. I loved her and played with her constantly. And then my naughty little brother and his evil friends stole her and carved female genitals on her. I was mad at him for years and of course my original Barbie was no longer original.

    1. Hi Judy. I, too. received my first Barbie in 1959 at age 9. In 1961 I was entering puberty and thought that Barbie should also have nipples on her bare breasts. I colored in nipples with a blue ballpoint pen. Then I remember freaking out, fearful that my mother would find out what I had done. I tried scrubbing the ink off–no good. I didn’t know then that hairspray would have solved the problem and erased the ink. What I did to “erase” her nipples was worse! I stole a razor blade and shaved off the tips of her breasts, thinking it would be unnoticeable. YOWZA! To this day, my 1959 original Barbie has razor-shaved tips of her breasts. So, we should ask whether any others have childhood-defaced antique Barbies. Your post made me smile. I hope mine makes you giggle. Dumb kids! / Cathy

  12. I believe that my aunt (confined to a wheelchair) made Barbie clothes for the company, possibly during her early years? I did not have a Barbie but was fascinated with the tiny buttons and trimmings. Now I’m wondering if Mattel did actually hire real people to make those first tiny clothes or if my aunt was selling them to another vendor.

  13. I will never forget opening the box and smelling plastic when I was given my first Barbie. I was so intrigued by her tiny loop earrings and black shiny slip-on heels. She wore a black and white bathing suit and had exotic eyes with rooted brown hair in a ponytail and bangs. So “Frenchy”! I was 7 and had never owned an adult doll before. I remember feeling embarrassed when I took off her clothes because she has such large breasts!

  14. I believe that I was 9 or 10, when I got my first Barbie, which was in 1966 or 1967. Through the years, I added to my collection. I had a Barbie & Ken. I also had Barbie’s little sister Skipper, & her boyfriend Ricky. I had a Barbie case, & I also had a Barbie house. I also had a Francie, who I think was another friend of Barbie. I also got a Tutti, who was another sister of Barbie’s, & Tutti’s friend Todd. When I was about 14, my mom told me that I was getting too old to play with Barbies, & she made me give them to 10 yr old neighbor….

  15. I first had baby dolls, then my sis and I got Bride Dolls. After that came paperdolls and the Barbies back in 1962. I learned to sew using my Mom’s Singer sewing machine. I cut up old throw away clothes for fabric scraps and trim to make Barbie clothes. I didn’t have tiny buttons so I used small snaps. It kept me occupied for many hours. When I was grown, I thought I would sew my 3 daughters some dresses, but I never did, I had a job and worked and traveled, and Hubby was Mr. Mom. My Mother and sister bought my girls tons of Barbies & clothes. I couldn’t bear to part with them so they are all in a big box in the attic. My girls are in their 30’s now, I have 2 grandsons. But that box of Barbie goods is still waiting for a granddaughter.

    1. Before Barbies I had a baby doll with a soft body, a Chatty Cathy, & Beauty Parlor doll. I still have those dolls. If it had been up to me, I would have kept my Barbies instead of giving them away to my 10 yr old neighbor.

      1. The fact you kept your Chatty Cath and your Beauty Parlor doll answer my question. I’d wondered if your mother didn’t want to keep anything that wasn’t currently being used. Maybe there was another reason she made you give away your Barbies.

        1. My mother thought I was getting too old to play with Barbies, ( I was in 7th/8th grade.). She also wanted to focus more on schoolwork.

  16. Tbh….I do not believe I will be going to see that Barbie movie. Doesn’t look like my cup of tea. At all.

  17. I’d like to see a Barbie created depicting her true age-with saggy breasts, a thick waist line and thunder thighs. Barbie as an aging grandma.

    1. I agree with you, that I’d like to see an Age appropriate Barbie, who looks her age.

  18. After baby dolls and paper dolls came Barbie and Midge. I’ll never forget Christmas of 1962 when I opened a coat box full of hand sewn Barbie clothes my mom had made. They were beautifully designed and meticulously sewn. I still have about a dozen outfits, a couple of 60s sewing patterns, my Midge doll and her shiny black case. My mom gave away the rest to a friend’s daughter.
    Designing and coloring paper doll outfits was a precursor for me to sew clothes for Barbie. I’m convinced this background inspired me to sew most of my own clothes in high school until I was middle aged. Wonderful memories!

    1. Yes, I still have my original Barbie and Ken as well as their clothes. Barbie sure had some amazing outfits. My father was in plastics, so everything is hermetically sealed in plastic bags!

  19. I think it would be awesome to have them release an anniversary Barbie with the original upswept hair and makeup… in an original gown from that era… all jazzed up with same high heels an earring. I would buy her!

  20. C’mon – go see it. Don’t be so uptight. I surely am and I never even had a Barbie. I’m 82.

  21. Love reading all these Barbie memories! I remember being introduced to the original “black eyeliner” Barbie at older friends’ houses. My first fashion doll wasn’t Barbie, but a knockoff with hair you could pull from its head called Tressie (went from short hair to a “fall”). I got a blond Barbie in around 1965 with a sleek black patent leather and pink case, and then a tan, “twist and turn” Barbie with Day-Glo fashions and go-go boots in 1968. I remember looking forward to all the seasonal fashion releases. Built them houses out of tissue boxes and knickknacks, had them hang out, change outfits to do different things (tennis, work, parties), and go on dates with my brother’s GI Joe. Playing with my Barbies was an event, like a small movie shoot. It continued for days.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia. We’re sad to see you go but we have removed your address from our email list. Have a great day.

  22. I got my first Barbie doll in 1959 with the black and white striped swimsuit and blonde ponytail. I decided I wanted her to have short hair and cut off the ponytail. I was so disappointed to discover that her rooted hair was only attached at the hairline circumference — her head without the hair pulled back over it was as bald as could be!

    My Ken doll’s suede blonde hair covering started to rub off, so I used my brother’s model airplane paint to paint his scalp where the hair had rubbed off. It didn’t really dry and remained a sticky mess.

    A few years later I got a red headed bubble hairdo Barbie and left her hair alone.

  23. What a difference 3 years makes—I was organizing closets during Covid and tried to sell some of the Barbies I had, and there was no interest! I ended up giving them away! The movie has created new interest. I saved a few that could fit in a doll storage case my parents had given me, in case I had a granddaughter, and last year a granddaughter was born!

  24. Does anyone remember WIG BARBIE??? She was actually my sister’s, but eventually I was able to play with her. She came with plastic hair, painted on, all pulled up – and THREE WIGS: blonde, brown, and red. She was GORGEOUS!!!

  25. I have probably almost 85 Barbies,3 Midges, 8 Kens,5 Skippers, and 6 or 7 other types of Barbies not to mention special edition Barbies I have 4 Gone with the Wind Barbies a Nutcracker Barbie a Swan Lake Barbie a High School Graduation Barbie a remake of the original Blond Ponytail Black and White swimsuit Barbie and most of these were my moms before mine I had only boughten about 5 Barbie’s the rest were given to me from when my mom had them. I have I dream house a pool 4 cars,3 horses, over one million pairs of clothes, and 50 pairs of shoes and I’m not even 11 yet most of the Barbies from my mom there heads fall off and I have to put them back on funny right does anyone have one of those Barbies that has super long hair I have one. As for my clothes, I have a huge bin in which the Barbie clothes barely fit in. Yup, I have a lot of Barbies don’t I. Don’t ever get rid of yours because your daughter or granddaughter might want them someday.

    1. One more thing, Laura I wish I could have a wig Barbie that is one of the only Barbies that my mom didn’t have

  26. One more thing, Laura I wish I could have a wig Barbie that is one of the only Barbies that my mom didn’t have

  27. My first Barbie was a 1963 Bubble-Cut, given to me by my aunt. She is now behind glass, wearing a handmade bridal gown. I was already fascinated by dolls. I had Tiny Tears, Thumbelina, Suzy Smart and a host of other dolls, including Tammy, a more teenage version of Barbie.
    I remember receiving a huge box in the mail, of handmade clothes from my grandmother. She was an amazing seamstress. My mother sewed and crocheted beautiful outfits, as well. I still have them.
    Over time, Ken, Skipper, Francie and Tutti were added to the family. I spent a lot of hours playing, making clothes and furniture for Barbie, but I didn’t play alone. My friends, Nancy, Kim, Brenda and Mary Beth loved the Barbie family too. I must also mention my cousin, Cynthia, who had outgrown her dolls when I had just developed my interest. I had no idea at the time, that she no longer played with dolls because she spent time with me, playing, building furniture out of cardboard and creating adventures for Barbie and her friends. We lost Cynthia this year which makes these memories most special. The story continues.

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