If not for a chance encounter in Europe, the Mattel corporation might still be selling picture frames and plastic furniture. Co-founder Ruth Handler was traveling through Switzerland with her family when her daughter took to a grown-up fashion doll named Lilli—a far cry from the baby dolls still popular in the states. Handler had a light bulb moment, and on September 6, 1959, helped Mattel debut the doll that would become her legacy: Barbie. Celebrate the iconic toy’s 56th anniversary on shelves with these little-known facts about America’s plastic sweetheart.
1. Only her friends call her “Barbie.”
If you were to look at her tax forms, you’d see her full name: Barbara Millicent Roberts. (Named after the Mattel founders’ daughter, Barbara Handler; their son, of course, is named Ken.)
2. Her fame is global, but she’s a small town girl.
According to brand lore, Barbie was officially born on March 9, 1959, in the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin.
3. She’s just one of seven Roberts kids.
Over the years, her siblings for sale have included: Skipper, Stacie, Chelsea, Krissy, Kelly, Tutti, and Todd.
4. The first celebrity addition to her family…
Was a fashion doll modeled after teen icon Twiggy in 1967. M.C. Hammer joined the brand in 1991—bringing a cassette tape of his own music along with him.
5. Good news, Hammer—Barbie digs younger men.
Her longtime BF Ken is two years younger than Barbie, debuting in toy stores in 1961.
6. She has the most impressive résumé in history.
Barbie has had more than 150 careers, including paleontologist, Desert Storm medic, Canadian Mountie, McDonald’s cashier, zoo doctor, business executive, secretary, Catwoman, and, regrettably, rapper.
7. She has been to space three times.
Astronaut Barbie debuted in 1965 (four years before the moon landing), then returned in 1986 and 1994.
8. …And has run for president six times.
Barbie ran her first campaign in 1992, but, unfortunately, has never won the nomination. Could 2016 be her year?
9. Her house is a zoo.
Barbie has owned more than 40 pets, including 21 dogs, 14 horses, 3 ponies, 6 cats, a parrot, a chimpanzee, a panda, a lion cub, a giraffe, and a zebra. No wonder she holds so many jobs… that’s a lot of mouths to feed.
10. She’s very hard to shop for.
If Barbie were a grown woman, her bust-waist-hip measurements would be an improbable 36-18-33.
11. …Good thing she’s got friends in the fashion industry.
Gucci , Versace, Vera Wang, Dolce & Gabana, and Givenchy have all contributed designs to Barbie’s wardrobe.
12. …And no shortage of outfits.
Supposedly, more than 100 million yards of fabric have been devoted to Barbie clothes, making Mattel one the biggest garment manufacturers in the world.
13. And at least she’s not picky about shoes.
More than one billion pairs have been designed for her.
14. She’s as modest now as she’s ever been.
The first Barbie sold in 1959 had one outfit: a black-and-white-striped, one-piece swim suit. Her hair came in blonde or brunette, but her eyes only came in one direction: leering coyly to the side. Barbie didn’t look ahead until 1971.
15. She’s about as cheap as she’s ever been, too.
The original side-staring Barbie sold for $3… which equates to about $23.97 in today’s money.
16. …Unless, of course, you’re a collector.
Limited-edition Barbies sell for upwards of $5,000—no small cost for avid collectors like Bettina Dorfmann. With more than 15,000 dolls, she owns the world’s largest Barbie collection.
17. Thankfully, there are plenty of Barbies to spare.
Mattel claims, somewhere in the world, there is one Barbie doll sold every three seconds. (Hey—There goes another one!)
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