Ruth Mosko Handler

(1916-2002)


Ruth Mosko Handler was an American entrepreneur, toy manufacturer and inventor of the Barbie doll and the Nearly Me breast prosthesis.

Handler was born in Denver, Colorado, on November 4, 1916, to first generation Jewish-Polish immigrants, Jacob Joseph Mosko and his wife, née Ida Rubenstein. She married her high school boyfriend, Elliott Handler, and the two moved to Los Angeles in 1938. The Handlers started their first business, plastic furniture, in their garage and Ruth sold products to Douglas Aircraft. During World War II a partner, Harold "Matt" Matson, and Elliot combined letters in their names to form another company, Mattel. They originally sold miniature picture frames but found dollhouse furniture to be more profitable. After Matson sold out to his partner, Elliot and Ruth Handler concentrated on manufacturing toys. In 1955 the Handlers pioneered a new way to market products directly to children by buying a year's worth of advertising on the new Mickey Mouse Club television show for which they created "Mouseguitar." Still it was the Barbie doll that would be their most successful product. During a trip to Europe Ruth bought a German doll, Lilli, for her daughter, Barbara. After buying the rights to market Lilli, Ruth made a few changes and put the Barbie doll on the market in 1959. Although Ruth Handler believed it was important for girls' self-esteem to play with a doll with breasts, critics have said that the doll's unrealistic measurements, translated to human size, 39ʹʹ-18ʹʹ-33ʹʹ, could have the opposite effect. Mattel did adjust the doll's measurements over the years, but the proportions remained out of reach for most women. The enormous appeal of Barbie, her ever-changing wardrobe pieces and her entourage, including boyfriend Ken (named for the Handlers' son Kenneth), Midge, Barbie's best friend, and Allan, Ken's pal and Midge's beau, led Mattel to become a publicly owned company in 1960, and by 1965 Mattel was on the Fortune 500 list. Ruth Handler, who became Mattel's president in 1967, was indicted in 1978 for fraud and securities violations from the early 1970s. Handler, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy in 1970, pled no contest, saying she wanted to work on her new business, based on the breast prosthesis she designed and called Nearly Me. She did public service to serve her sentence. Handler published an autobiography, Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story in 1995.

Handler died in California from complications of colon cancer surgery on April 27, 2002, at age 85. At the time of her passing, more than a billion Barbies had been sold in 250 countries. The phenomenal success of Barbie found the doll among items buried in the official Bicentennial time capsule.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

M.G. Lord. Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll (1994).

[Sara Alpern (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.