When I read about Ruth Handler and her invention - the Barbie Doll, I read also about her inspiration. I as an inventor never thought her invention might be a direct copy - that never for once crossed my mind. Four years later, I took the time to review the actual German doll that "inspired" Ruth Mosko Handler.Ruth Marianna Mosko Handler (November 4, 1916 – April 27, 2002). The photos were hard to find with the notable exception of one of the best sources in the world - you guessed it - eBay. eBay the site that offers something for everyone - even an education! And what an education I had! I had read about the similarities but never had seen the "original" inspiration from Germany - the Lilli doll.
The original is so close to the first Barbie that at first I was crest fallen. My hero, Ruth Handler, was not an inventor, she was a duplicator. In literary fashion, she would be a plagiarizer. In the commercial world here in America, she was a commercial success and is heralded as an inventor. But if you look closely, there isn't allot that she crafted - the Barbie is really a cookie cutter of the German doll Lilli right down to the slanted eyes.
Oh, sure Mattel with their millions went on to acquire the rights of Lilli and later have perhaps dozens of their own utility patents. Yet the "inspiration" is a misnomer and must be recognized as a copy.
Here in America we chastise the Chinese for copying our products and mass producing them and bringing them to the average household. The Lilli doll had a total production of 130,000 from 1955-1964. It is estimated in the first year alone, Barbie produced 350,000 dolls. It is estimated that Barbie is available now in 150 countries and has sold over 1 billion dolls! Barbie even has developed a "color-coded system" to designated the number of dolls in a production with platinum being the highest in value and the lowest in quantity produced. Colors include platinum, gold, pink and silver. "By 2005, all dolls will be classified using the Pink Label™, Silver Label™, Gold Label ™, or Platinum Label™ designations."
Inspiration of Brilliance or Simple Duplication?
The true brilliance of Ruth Handler cannot be understood in simply the production numbers. The brilliance is Ruth's emotional connection to children and relaying that emotion to the new media called television. For you see while Ruth may have "copied" the doll, she invented the promotion.
It is the promotion of the doll that has forever captured our hearts. The tag line of Barbie is "We Girls Can Do Anything” is an empowering statement that is also a team statement. For you see, the whole premise of Ruth Handler was to empower the young girls.
So while the product wasn't really a unique invention, the experience that Ruth Handler sought to create was a real invention that has been copied relentlessly over the decades. The king of marketing experience is of course Disney but the foundation was built by this lady with a small toy - a doll and a big idea of bringing empowering and fun and play to millions of children.
This universal appeal to the very core of our emotions is what every marketing manager ultimately seeks to evoke. To create an experience, to evoke a lasting memory of being whomever you desire is the epidemy.... of achievement and invention.
Ruth Handler may have copied the German invention right down to the slanted eyes that look away (which by the way ended in 1971 when the eyes took on the direct approach rather than the demure approach) but her believe in a toy that can make us dream is the real invention that brought to us that forever changed our humanity.
Lilli Doll - The German Doll That Was Ruth Handler's Inspiration
Lilli The Cartoon Strip
Origin of the German Doll - Lilli - Cartoon Strip
What is interesting is the background of the real invention of the toy - the doll originated in Germany but not originally as a doll - it was the exploitation of a cartoon strip in a German publication.
Was the Barbie Doll Based Upon a German Sex Doll?
Barbie was based upon the German doll that was inspired by a cartoon. The line that "Barbie is based upon a German sex doll" is statement that is sensational in nature and while it is based in truth - it doesn't tell the full story.
The cartoon that inspired Lilli, the German doll was voluptuous but so is the female body. To sensationalize the origins of the world's most popular toy is not fair to the inventor Ruth Handler. For you see, Ruth created the experience - the fact that little girls can be whatever they want to be. Ruth did not just create a toy. The toy was a vehicle to tell a story - a far cry from the sensational headline statement that sells stories.
Share Your View
What do you think of the origins of Barbie? Please share your thoughts and memories of your Barbie dolls below.
© 2014 Kelly A Burnett
Kelly A Burnett (author) from Southern Wisconsin on March 21, 2016:
That doll is exquisite - thank you for sharing!
Kelly A Burnett (author) from Southern Wisconsin on February 06, 2014:
M K Paul,
Actually it was fun to write. I have written about Barbie for years and finally I sat down to find the inspiration behind Barbie and lucky for me photos were just released so it make the story come to life.
I had read the doll was after the comic strip but again without seeing the strip, it had no relevance. To see the doll, to see the comic strip give all of this pertinence.
What I found fascinating is the marketing of Barbie. Essentially Ruth Handler crafted an experience. She may have "copied" the doll but the experience was truly her innovation that has been replicated by the advertising masters.
To have that vision to craft an experience form a child's toy was remarkable
I am glad your kids enjoyed it too. I hope they see the full story of what innovation really is - a new vision of something old.
M K Paul from India on January 06, 2014:
Wow, really njoying, specially my kids too