Watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, Ruth Handler (cofounder of Mattel, Inc.) decided that girls would have more fun with three-dimensional dolls. Baby dolls filled store shelves in the 1950s, but Handler wanted a grown-up doll with a stunning wardrobe. When Handler traveled to Europe with her family in 1956, she saw exactly the fashion doll she had been trying to get her company's designers to produce for American girls. That doll was based on Lilli, the character of a comic strip in the 1950s Hamburg, Germany, newspaper called "Bild-Zeitung." The character was good-looking, curvy, fashionable, and quite liberated for her time. The Lilli doll sold first in tobacco shops and other stores frequented by men. Initially, she was intended as a party gag or gift for the man of the house, and she gained popularity among German men at about the same time Hugh Heifner's "Playboy" magazine entertained hip American men in the United States. By the mid-1950s, Bild Lilli's manufacturer distributed the doll to toy stores where she appealed to girls looking for a fashion doll. Handler purchased examples of the dolls to take back to Mattel's artists. Even a casual glance at Lilli and the first Barbies suggests how similar the dolls are. Within a year of her introduction in 1959, Barbie became the biggest selling fashion doll of all time.


  • Title: Doll:No. 1 Ponytail Barbie
  • Creator: Mattel, Inc.
  • Date Created: 1959
  • Location: Hawthorne, CA
  • Subject Keywords: Barbie
  • Type: Barbie, Dolls from the Fifties and Sixties
  • Medium: hard plastic, vinyl, synthetic hair, fabric
  • Object ID: 103.2495

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps