From 1961 to the debut of Superstar Ken in 1977 Ken had straight arms that didn’t bend. His head could only turn left and right. Ken’s hair was made of felt in his first year (known to collectors as the “flocked” hair Ken), but this was replaced with a plastic, molded hairstyle when the creators realized that the felt hair fell off when wet. Superstar Ken featured a dimpled smile, a head that could swivel, bent arms, a more muscular physique, jewelry, and underwear permanently molded to his body. The woman who made the Ken doll made it to resemble her husband.
Ken’s best friend, Allan Sherwood (Midge’s boyfriend, later husband), was introduced in 1964. The first African-American male doll, Brad, was introduced in 1968, as the boyfriend of Barbie’s African-American friend, Christie, who was introduced in 1967.
Earring Magic Ken
In 1993, “Earring Magic Ken” was released. The style of the doll was thought to resemble fashions and accessories worn by some segments of the gay community at the time, and “Earring Magic Ken” subsequently attained a cult following, becoming a collector’s item.
In February, 2004, Mattel announced a split for Ken and Barbie, with Russell Arons, vice president of marketing at Mattel, saying that Barbie and Ken “feel it’s time to spend some quality time – apart…Like other celebrity couples, their Hollywood romance has come to an end”, though Arons indicated that the duo would “remain friends”.
Barbie and Ken Return
In February, 2006 however, a revamped version of the Ken doll was launched, though it was stated that their relationship is still purely platonic. In 2011, Mattel launched a massive campaign for Ken to win Barbie’s affections back. The pair officially reunited in Valentine’s Day 2011.
Sugar Daddy Ken
In October 2009, Mattel announced a new Palm Beach line which included a “Sugar’s Daddy Ken” doll aimed for adult collectors. The said line officially debuted in the spring of 2010. The line proved to be controversial, because of Ken’s suggestive-sounding name. The doll had a more mature appearance and came with a West Highland Terrier puppy. Mattel defended the doll’s name, saying that the puppy’s name is “Sugar”, thus making Ken “Sugar’s Daddy”.
In 2021, Mattel announced 15 new looks for Ken. This included looks with different skin tones, body shapes and hair styles. Barbie underwent a similar makeover in 2020. Outside of this change, Ken hasn’t changed much since he was introduced 56+ years ago.
Ruth Handler watched her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. At the time, most children’s toy dolls were representations of infants. Realizing that there could be a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company. He was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel’s directors.
During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. Lilli was a blonde bombshell, a working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.
Upon her return to the United States, Handler redesigned the doll (with help from local inventor-designer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler’s daughter Barbara. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York City on March 9, 1959. This date is also used as Barbie’s official birthday.
The first Barbie doll wore a black-and-white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model”, with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.
Louis Marx and Company sued Mattel in March 1961. After licensing Lilli, they claimed that Mattel had “infringed on Greiner & Hausser’s patent for Bild-Lilli’s hip joint”, and also claimed that Barbie was “a direct take-off and copy” of Bild-Lilli. The company additionally claimed that Mattel “falsely and misleadingly represented itself as having originated the design”. Mattel counter-claimed and the case was settled out of court in 1963. In 1964, Mattel bought Greiner & Hausser’s copyright and patent rights for the Bild-Lilli doll for $21,600.
Ruth Handler believed that it was important for Barbie to have an adult appearance, and early market research showed that some parents were unhappy about the doll’s chest, which had distinct breasts. Barbie’s appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll’s eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model. This would be the last improvement Ruth would make to her own creation as, three years later, she and her husband Elliot were removed from their posts at Mattel after an investigation found them guilty of issuing false and misleading financial reports.
Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been copied widely by other toys. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.
The standard range of Barbie dolls and related accessories are manufactured to approximately 1/6 scale, which is also known as playscale. The standard dolls are approximately 11½ inches (29 cm) tall.
The new dolls will be joining the 2022 Barbie Fashionistas Line and will be a part of their over 175 different dolls. It will feature dolls with different skin tones, body types, and disabilities including a prosthetic leg and hearing aids, among others.