Ruth Handler, famously known for the invention of the iconic Barbie doll, was once president of the Mattel Inc. toy manufacturing company. She was born in 1916 in Denver, Colorado. Her parents, both Jewish immigrants from Poland, were named Jacob and Ida Mosko.
Ruth moved to Los Angeles, California in 1938 with her husband Elliot Handler. Together they formed a furniture business that would eventually supply the Douglas Aircraft Company, among other large organizations. Her husband crafted the furniture out of Plexiglas and Lucite, which at the time were cutting edge materials.
Mattel Inc. was created by Ruth’s husband Elliot Handler and his partner Harold Matson in 1945. What began as a picture frame manufacturing company slowly transformed into a toy company when its creators began crafting dollhouses out of wooden scraps. However, what elevated Mattel into an American staple was the inventiveness of Ruth herself.
Barbara Handler, Ruth’s daughter, was fond of paper dolls as a child. She would play with them as if they were grown ups, rather than children her own age. Being an attentive mother, Ruth soon realized that children frequently preferred to be adults when playing. She declared that children are more interested in their futures than the present moment. This gave Ruth the idea to craft an adult doll that was not paper, like all the others, but three dimensional. The fully formed plastic doll could wear clothing made from real fabric, rather than the ill-fitting paper clothing used for traditional dolls.
In 1959, Ruth revealed her new doll at the New York toy fair. It was named Barbie, after her daughter. After investing heavily in advertisements that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, sales of the Barbie doll elevated Mattel to levels of success beyond both Ruth’s and her husband’s wildest dreams.
Ruthton Corp. and the Later Years
In 1970, Ruth Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer. A modified radical mastectomy was performed to save her life, but Ruth was not content to live with the new deformation. At the time, there were very few options for breast prosthesis. Being a motivated and inventive woman, Ruth decided to build her own. She designed and constructed a realistic breast prosthetic called the Nearly Me. With it, she formed the Ruthton Corp. and sold her product to cancer survivors around the globe.
Ruthton Corp. went on to produce many new products, though mostly without the help of Ruth herself. Her last major contribution to Ruthton was the production of the Barbie and the Rockers line of dolls. A film was made by the same name in 1987, crediting Ruth as a writer. In 1997, Ruth was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame.
Ruth Handler died in 2002, at the age of 85, due to a complication during surgery to treat colon cancer, but her legacy has lived on. The Barbie doll is still one of the most famous and profitable toys for young girls in America and around the world.