“Ruth”less Barbie

With most inventions there are two or more people involved in the initial creation process and Barbie was no exception. Ruth Handler, “the Mother of Barbie”, claims to be the sole inventor of the doll, but evidence indicates that Barbie has a father, Jack Ryan. Most experts agree that Ruth was the desire behind the need for Barbie and that her discovery of the Bild-Lilli was the initial model for the doll. Legend says that Ruth had an incredibly hard time getting the businessmen to take her doll and idea seriously. It was not until a new Design Chief, Jack Ryan, came on board at Mattel that Barbie’s physical creation began. While most men believe Ruth’s doll to be offensive to their wives and daughters, Ryan saw its potential. In Toy Monsters: The Big, Bad World of Mattel investigative reporter, Jerry Oppenheimer, exposes Ryan’s struggle with hypersexuality. Reportedly, Ryan’s hypersexuality was his reason for support of Barbie and her continuous development[1]. Another indication that Ryan was the inventor of Barbie is that Ruth had no technical background, but Ryan had previously been in missile construction but free lanced in toy engineering for extra pay[2]. His business sense was what led to the outsourcing of Barbie’s production to Kokosai Boeki, Japan[3]. By outsourcing the doll’s manufacturing, Mattel could create an inexpensive doll for the masses and use her accessories as the true source of profits. As Design Chief, Ryan worked continuously on Barbie. It was his tinkering and improvement that allowed for Barbie to stay one step ahead of her competition. Finally, legend suggests that Barbie was named after Ruth’s daughter, Barbara. However, Ryan insisted that calling the doll Barbie was in honor of both Ruth’s daughter and his wife, also named Barbara. Ryan’s influence in the Barbie brand continues as “The Baby First Step” doll was named Diana after his daughter[4]. Finally, all US patents related to Barbie, including the most important patent on Barbie’s twist and turn body are in Ryan’s name[5]. Ruth-“ruthless”-Handler, as she became known, insisted that Barbie was her creation stating, “the late Jack Ryan was not Barbie’s creator. My husband, Elliot, and I were the founders of Mattel Toys, and I was the creator of the Barbie doll. Jack Ryan, in his role as head of the research-anddevelopment department, managed some of the design work relating to the doll and her accessories”[6]. After Jack Ryan’s death, she shoved his contribution under the rug, taking sole credit for the invention and success of the doll. While Ruth might have thought-up Barbie and was given the honorary title of “The Mother of Barbie”, “The Father of Barbie”, Jack Ryan, is possibly the more important parent because he truly engineered the doll.

When Barbie turned 50 in 2009, Eliza Gray from The Daily Beast review the “dueling biographies” of Barbie.  She points out the contentions between the two creators, Ruth and Jack, were enough to drive them apart and lead to his ultimate dismissal from the company. In response, Jack sued for royalties for all the patents[7].  Gray believes that both stories are probably a little more than exaggerated,a notion we also prescribe to. Regardless she states that Barbie’s “creator undoubtedly made a mark on American culture, Fifty years after her birth, millions of girls are playing with Barbie” [8]. It is not surprising both Jack and Ruth would fight over the ownership rights of Barbie; Barbie is a star.

Check out one of Jack Ryan’s patents.

 [1] Jerry Oppenheimer, Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (New Jersey: Wiley. 2009), 3.

[2] Ibid.,10.

[3] Ibid.,30.

[4] Ibid., 28.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Eliza Gray, “Her Cups Runneth Over: Barbie turns 50- she looks good, doesn’t she? –and gets dueling biographies as a gift,” The Daily Beast, Posted February 20, 2009. http://www.grayeliza.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/barbie.pdf, (Accessed April 22, 2013).

[7] Jerry Oppenheimer, Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009),13.

[8]  Gray, “Her Cups Runneth Over”. 

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