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Who Invented Barbie? – 7 Fun History Facts About Barbie

The world has gone wild over Barbie recently. And we’re not ashamed to admit, we love Barbie too! So we thought to ourselves, why not jump in on all the Barbie action? Here are seven fun facts about this iconic fashionista toy.

Fun bonus challenge – Can you count how many times we include the word “Barbie” in this article? Call your guesses now. We’re guessing it'll turn up 24 times. We’ve had 6 already if you count the title!

Charlotte Johnson, Barbie's first clothes designer Mattel Ruth Handler
Here's Barbie's first clothes designer Charlotte Johnson, proving that a doll's clothes don't always have to fall off!

1. Barbie was invented because paper dolls are rubbish.

Sorry paper dolls, but it’s true. They’re flimsy and they tear easily. They go smushy in the rain. And those pesky tabs mean their clothes always fall off! Barbie’s creator and co-founder of toy company Mattel, Ruth Handler watched as her daughter got frustrated at her paper dolls time after time. Ruth soon realised there was a gap in the market for a new type of toy doll.

Diverse Barbie dolls from Mattel
Today, Mattel produces a diverse range of dolls, including a role models range to inspire children

2. Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll of an adult.

Before Barbie, toy dolls were primarily made to look like babies. Ruth Handler realised that children like to play pretending to be grown-ups too. So Barbie was designed to be an adult. At first, Ruth’s design team thought there was no way it would work. But by the end of Barbie’s first year of production in 1959, 300,000 dolls had been sold. Nowadays Mattel, the company that makes the dolls, claims that two Barbie dolls are sold worldwide every single second.

Lilli, a German doll who inspired Ruth Handler Barbie
Lilli, a German doll who inspired Ruth Handler - image credit RomitaGirl67

3. Barbie was inspired by a character from a comic strip.

While on holiday in Switzerland, a doll named Lilli caught Ruth Handler’s eye. The doll was based on a character from a German comic strip published in a popular newspaper. The doll was originally a novelty toy for grown-ups but became very popular with kids. Ruth bought a Lilli doll and took it home to her design team to copy as the inspiration for her new Barbie doll toy.

4. Barbie has had more than 200 different careers.

It may shock you to find out that Barbie doesn’t just work in the world of fashion. Toy company Mattel has portrayed Barbie with hundreds of different jobs including a game show host, an architect, a firefighter and an air force pilot. She’s also had careers as a farmer and a sign language teacher. She’s competed professionally in almost every area of sports and athletics that you can think of. And she's worked as every type of doctor and nurse that springs to mind. She’s had jobs in politics and engineering and had careers as diverse as a games developer or a marine biologist. Oh and one time, when she was between jobs, she even tried her hand at being a cat burglar.

Astronaut space discovery Barbie on the International Space Station
Real-life space discovery for this astro-doll! Image credit DLR_de

5. Astronaut Barbie has actually been to space.

The first Astronaut Barbie was released in 1965, four years before the first human walked on the moon. But Barbie doesn’t just look the part, she has actually made a visit to space. In 2022, two Space Discovery Barbies were fully equipped with mini spacesuits and launched in a rocket into the cosmos. The pair then spent several months on board the International Space Station!

barbie presidential candidate mattel
We think Barbie would make a great world leader, don't you? She's such a "shero"!

6. Barbie has run for president of the United States seven times.

Barbie first tried to get elected as president back in 1992. Since then, she’s been a candidate for almost every presidential election in the United States. In the 2016 US election, Mattel created both a presidential and vice-president Barbie. And in the 2020 election, Barbie had her own four-person campaign team! Unfortunately, she hasn’t yet won an election. But there’s always next year.

Diverse Barbie dolls historic figures sheros and role models mattel
Which historical icon would you want to see made into a Barbie doll? We'd love to see a Pharaoh Hatshepsut doll!

7. Barbie has a bunch of iconic friends.

For those of you who, like us, love Barbie and love history, here’s a fact that is sure to thrill you. Barbie is friends with a tonne of notable people from history. Check out this list of some of the amazing historical figures that have been made into Barbie dolls:

  • Florence Nightingale – nurse in the Crimean War and founder of modern nursing

  • Rosa Parks – American civil rights activist, known for her role in the Montgomery bus boycott

  • Amelia Earhart – the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean

  • Frida Kahlo – Mexican painter and feminist icon, known for her self-portraits

  • Ida B Wells – American journalist and activist for the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage

  • Katherine Johnson – NASA mathematician known for contributing essential calculations for successful crewed spaceflights

And the answer to this article’s bonus challenge?

For those of you who were counting, the word “Barbie” was mentioned an enormous 34 times in this article! Whoa! We weren’t too far off with our estimation of 24. How did you get on? Was your guess closer than ours?


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