Ruth Handler

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Ruth Handler
Ruth Handler.jpg
Ruth Marianna Mosko

(1916-11-04)November 4, 1916
Denver, Colorado, US
DiedApril 27, 2002(2002-04-27) (aged 85)[1]
Los Angeles, California, US
OccupationPresident of Mattel, Inc.
EmployerMattel, Inc.
SuccessorRobert A. Eckert
(m. 1938; her death 2002)

Ruth Marianna Handler (née Mosko; November 4, 1916 – April 27, 2002) was an American businesswoman and inventor. She served as the president of the toy manufacturer Mattel Inc., In 1959 she invented the Barbie doll, which sold over a billion copies worldwide. She was the founder and president of the world's largest toy company, which at its peak had 18,000 employees and annual sales of over $300 million. She was active in public service and won many awards. In 1974 the Handlers were forced to resign from Mattel, and in 1978 Ruth Handler and four others were convicted in federal court of conspiracy, mail fraud, and false reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission. [2]

Early life[edit]

Handler was born Ruth Marianna Mosko in Denver, Colorado, to Polish-Jewish immigrants Ida Mosko (née Rubenstein) and Jacob Mosko.[3] She married her high school boyfriend, Elliot Handler, and moved to Los Angeles in 1938.[4] Her husband decided to make their furniture out of two newfound types of plastics, Lucite and Plexiglas. Ruth Handler suggested that he start doing this commercially and they began a furniture business. Ruth Handler worked as the sales force for the new business, landing contracts with Douglas Aircraft Company and others.[4]

Formation of Mattel[edit]

Her husband Elliot Handler and his business partner Harold "Matt" Matson formed a small company to manufacture picture frames, calling it "Mattel" by combining part of their names ("Matt" and "Elliot"). Later, they began using scraps from the manufacturing process to make dollhouse furniture. The furniture was more profitable than the picture frames and it was decided to concentrate on toy manufacturing. The company's first big-seller was the "Uke-a-doodle", a toy ukulele.


Ruth Handler claimed her daughter Barbara, who was becoming a pre-teen, played with paper dolls by pretending they were adults.[5] Handler noticed that in such play, children would act out future events, rather than the present.[6] Handler noted the limitations of the paper dolls, including how the paper clothing failed to attach well. She wanted to produce a three-dimensional plastic "paper doll" with an adult body and a wardrobe of fabric clothing, but her husband and Mr. Matson thought parents would not buy their children a doll with a voluptuous figure. While the Handler family was vacationing in Europe, Ruth Handler saw the West German Bild Lilli doll (which was not a children's toy, but rather an adult gag gift) in a Swiss shop and brought it home. The Lilli doll was a representation of the same concept Ruth had been trying to sell to other Mattel executives.

Once home, she reworked the design of the doll and named her Barbie after the Handlers' daughter, Barbara.[5] Barbie debuted at the New York toy fair on March 9, 1959, but was not an immediate success. When Disney introduced The Mickey Mouse Club children's television show, Mattel invested heavily in television advertising. The TV commercials for the Barbie doll paid off and Barbie rocketed Mattel and the Handlers to fame and fortune. Subsequently, they would add a boyfriend for Barbie named Ken, after the Handlers' son, and many other "friends and family" to Barbie's world.

Later years[edit]

Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1970. She had a modified radical mastectomy, which was often used at the time to combat the disease, and because of difficulties in finding a good breast prosthesis, she decided to make her own. With Peyton Massey, Ruth founded, Ruthton Corp., which manufactured a more realistic version of a woman's breast, called "Nearly Me". She personally fitted one for the then first lady, Betty Ford.

In 1974, Handler resigned from Mattel after investigations of producing fraudulent financial reports.[7] In 1978, Handler was charged with fraud and false reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission. She pleaded no contest, was fined $57,000 and sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service.[8] She blamed her illness for making her "unfocused" on her business.

Though the Handlers took a more hands-off approach to their company's business practice after resigning, they continued to create new ideas. One project Handler took in the 1980s was Barbie and the Rockers. She was credited as a writer of the 1987 film Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World. Handler was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1997.

She died in California from complications of surgery for colon cancer on April 27, 2002, aged 85.[9] Her husband Elliot died nine years later at the age of 94.


  1. ^ Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85 - New York Times]
  2. ^ Dennis Wepman, "Handler, Ruthfree" American National Biography (2000) online
  3. ^ Jewish Virtual Library: "Ruth Mosko Handler - (1916-2002) retrieved August 10, 2013
  4. ^ a b "Who Made America?: Ruth Handler". PBS.
  5. ^ a b "History: Ruth Handler". Mattel.
  6. ^ "Ruth Handler: Barbie Doll Invention". Retrieved 2016-07-04.
  7. ^ Clair Winters (September 23, 2016). "Ruth Handler And Her Barbie Refashioned Mattel And The Toy Industry". Investor's Business Daily.
  8. ^ Elaine Woo (April 29, 2002). "Barbie Doll Creator Ruth Handler Dies". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Associated Press (April 28, 2002). "Creator of Barbie dies at 85". USA Today. Retrieved January 12, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Forman-Brunell, Miriam. "Barbie in" LIFE": The Life of Barbie." Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 2.3 (2009): 303-311. online
  • Gerber, Robin. Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her. Harper/Collins, 2008.
  • Weissman, Kristin Noelle. Barbie: The Icon, the Image, the Ideal: An Analytical Interpretation of the Barbie Doll in Popular Culture (1999).
  • Wepman, Dennis. "Handler, Ruth" American National Biography (2000) online

External links[edit]