Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her

Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her

by Robin Gerber

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“Barbie and her creator, the sharp-elbowed gal who built the biggest toy company, have a story to tell.”



Barbie and Ruth by Ruth Gerber is the remarkable true story of the world’s most famous toy and the woman who created her. It is a fascinating account of how one visionary woman and her product changed an industry and sparked a lasting debate about women’s roles. At once a business book, a colorful portrait of an extraordinary female entrepreneur, and a breathtaking look at a cultural phenomenon, Barbie and Ruth is a must read for anyone who ever owned a Barbie doll—a book Publishers Weekly calls, “a stirring biography…a fine study of success and resilience.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061895197
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 104,381
File size: 614 KB

About the Author

Robin Gerber is the author of several books, including Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, Katharine Graham, and the novel Eleanor vs. Ike. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Barbie and Ruth
The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her

Chapter One

The Doll Nobody Wanted

Little girls just want to be bigger girls.
—Ruth Handler

Ruth Handler could sell anything. In 1959 she arrived in New York for the nation's Toy Fair, confident that she could sell a new doll she had created. She had been fighting naysayers, however, for seven years. The doll was a terrible idea, they had told her.

As the forty-three-year-old executive vice president of Mattel, Inc., Ruth had created an industry upstart in 1944 that was now the third biggest toy company in America. Mattel, based in Hawthorne, California, just outside Los Angeles, was a $14 million business. Ruth, a petite 5-foot–2 ½-inch hard charger with a quick smile and quicker temper, had tripled the size of the business since the start of the decade. With her husband, Elliot, as chief toy designer, she had outmarketed and outmanaged her chief rivals, Louis Marx and Company, and Kenner Products. Her revenues would soon exceed theirs.

Ruth headed straight for the New Yorker Hotel, where a room had been converted into display space. So many companies came to Toy Fair with so many toys to display that they overflowed into hotels neighboring the main hall. Beds, chairs, and desks were all carted out to make room for elaborate displays like the one for Ruth's doll.

Ruth dressed that morning to look sharp and show off her slender waist and full bust. Moving restlessly around the room, she adjusted and scrutinized each twelve-inch scaled scene, no doubt thinking about what was at stake. She had ordered a hugeamount of inventory from her Japanese manufacturers. Twenty thousand of her petite-size fashion dolls were on weekly order, along with forty thousand pieces of the various outfits that had been designed to fit the doll's tiny, voluptuous figure. But the cost of moving that inventory onto and off store shelves was not all that was on Ruth's mind.

Ruth was also worried about her credibility. She had founded the company, and the men in her mostly male industry gave her credit for brilliance as an entrepreneur. But she had never invented or designed a toy. She also possessed the sometimes irrational optimism that fuels leaders and allows little tolerance for failure. Even though her designers told Ruth many times that making this doll profitable would be impossible, she pushed it through anyway.

Ruth lit one cigarette off the last. She barked orders laced with four-letter words and swiped at specks of dust. Her bravado hid another more personal reason that made this toy important to her. For her, this doll was more than a plaything. She was determined to make the buyers understand that this small plastic toy had a giant place to fill in the lives of little girls.

Toy Fair shimmered with all the hype and hoopla of a three-ring circus and a Broadway show rolled into one. The extravaganza was about innovation, design, a touch of genius, and companies betting on hitting the cultural zeitgeist. Toy manufacturers, intent on mesmerizing retail store buyers, spilled out of the main convention venue, the Toy Center at 200 Fifth Avenue, a legendary address in the history of toy making. Built just after the turn of the twentieth century, the building saw tenants move in as World War I ended and the center of toy manufacturing moved from Germany to the United States.

Large, gaudy banners draped the entrance to the fair. Adults promenaded in character costumes, and toys blinked, whirled, and stared from elaborate displays. Child's play cloaked the serious business of making toy sales. Nearly seven thousand retail buyers milled around 200 Fifth Avenue on an unseasonably warm day. New items at the 1959 fair included a working child-size soda fountain, a walking hobbyhorse, a gas-operated car that could go as fast as 22 miles per hour, and a Dr. Seuss zoo.

Starting in 1903, toy companies had arrived at Toy Fair to unveil their inventions and try to grab the attention, and shelf space, of store buyers. The first fair had been held near the docks to accommodate toys imported from Europe. That year, the American toys included the Humpty Dumpty Circus, Crayola crayons, Lionel trains, and teddy bears, supposedly named for the president who had refused to kill an orphaned bear cub.

Before Toy Fair started, the media had ignored Ruth's doll. With the space age dominating Americans' imaginations, the New York Times focused on Mattel's two-stage, three-foot-long plastic rocket, which could shoot two hundred feet into the air. Jack Ryan, a former project engineer on the U.S. Navy's Sparrow missile project, was lured from a job at Raytheon Company to design the miniature missile. Mattel had the trappings of a major aircraft company, with its own research and development department and twenty graduate engineers with a large budget to dream up the next hot toy. Picked for their unique creativity and fierce competitiveness, they were called the blue-sky group, and they were expected to think two to four years into the future.

A toy like the plastic rocket would be sent to a team of ten industrial engineers, who planned the production. "On a new item," Ruth explained to a reporter, "we will run as many as a hundred cost sheets before we fix on a design." She had boundless faith in the management and productions systems she had designed. Mattel's factories were more mechanized and its costs more refined than any of its competitors. With typical grandiosity, Ruth told the New York Times, "With our system we might just as well be turning out real airplanes or missiles." Instead, fueled by Elliot's genius for invention, Ruth sold toys to a postwar marketplace starved for them.

Barbie and Ruth
The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her
. Copyright (c) by Robin Gerber . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Introduction vii

1 The Doll Nobody Wanted 1

2 The Tenth Child 21

3 Love at a Nickel a Dance 29

4 Ruth and Elliot and Matt 43

5 A Working Mother 61

6 Uke-A-Doodles 71

7 Music Makers and Sour Notes 79

8 Gambling Everything on Mickey Mouse 91

9 The Woman and the Doll 103

10 Soaring in the Sixties 119

11 Toys, Money, and Power 135

12 Hot Wheels and Hot Deals 147

13 The Cancer Within 165

14 The Plot Unravels 185

15 Nearly Me 197

16 The Wages of Fraud 213

17 Forced Service 225

18 Ken and a Time of Plague 233

19 Her Way 245

Author's Note 255

Bibliography 258

Acknowledgments 267

Index 269

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Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
KrisBarry More than 1 year ago
Barbie and Ruth is book with a story of a woman filled with ambition. She begins her journey into her business of America's most popular doll wasn't an easy one. Because of the male dominant business society during the 50's and 60's, it made Ruth's situation a little more difficult. I would say that a major theme throughout this book is to keep your mind set on the goal you are striving for. Ruth could have easily given up and become a normal housewife like any other woman during that time period, but because she refused to let society define who she was to become, she accomplished all of her goals plus some. I definitely enjoyed how Robin Gerber not only told the story of Ruth's business hardships, but also her childhood and other family hardships that occurred. This aspect of the book allowed the reader to be inside Ruth's life and understand her struggles because she was raised by a sister rather than a mother, the intimate relationship that began long ago with her husband Elliot, and also the history with her children Barbara and Ken. This biography was not one that dragged on for what seemed like forever, it was an enjoyable read. Although, if there was one characteristic I would change would be the lack of pictures. Mental pictures could be made without a doubt, but physical pictures that allowed the reader into Ruth's life and what her environment looked like would have been nice. If you're an individual who enjoys the history of the world's most popular doll, Barbie, or women that succeed in the business world, then this is definitely the book for you. I wouldn't suggest it if you don't take interest in small details of how the product became world known.
suzieq27 More than 1 year ago
Robin Gerber has unearthed an appealing story about Ruth and the evolution of Barbie and Ruth throughout the years. It is a quick read putting forth aspects of Ruth's life, the effect of her drive and aspirations on the people around her, and the success she achieved and lost. Ruth is a hard driving, insightful entrepreneur unafraid to take risks in a time when people thought she had no place in business. Barbie was Ruth's vision for all little girls to come - you can have beauty, power, and a life full of expriences beyond the home.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Barbie & Ruth was more about the inception of Mattel than the creation of Barbie. It was somewhat biographical about Ruth Handler and her rise to glory, fall from grace and quiet exit from the toy world. However don't be discouraged because I thought the author covered the Barbie story quite well. I especially enjoyed the many different views on Ruth's personality and business acumen. I'm not sure Ruth would have enjoyed the author's portrayal of her but for me it made it that much more believable. The book did not endear me to Ruth. Starting out the book with her court sentencing made me have an instant dislike for her in ways that are reinforced throughout the book. However by the end I felt I had a better understanding of who she was as a person. I really enjoyed every page of this book; it was well written and engaging. I would highly recommend it!
Cynthia-ann More than 1 year ago
This book captured my interest from the first words written. It gave the reader insight into Ruth Handler and her incredible entreprenurial and industrious spirit. How Barbie was created and marketed was a great story, as was the building and development of Mattel. Although Ruth is accused of fraud, it's impossible not to admire, respect, and revere her. Gerber's writing style is engaging and holds one's interest throughout.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
debherter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written story of Ruth Handler's life from her childhood being raised by a sister, to her success at founding and growing Mattel, to her legal problems associated with money mishandling at the company, to her reincarnation as the creator of the Nearly Me breast prosthetic. Handler is clearly a complex woman, and this biography deals well with those complexities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ewww barbie is for whimps. I hate barie. By the way the titles false
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That there is a point in every business that you either settle down to selling what you have or trying to add businesses you know nothing about. In other words you can get too big. All the other stuff had nothing to do with selling inventing and marketing toys that sold year in and year out. marketing may sell a new product but certain generic products keep on and on like crayons teddy bears cars with wheels and bikes sturdy and affordable and certain board games
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Estrella More than 1 year ago
this is an amazing story!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
rachelsweet More than 1 year ago
The title is all wrong for this book. If you are looking for a book about Barbie this is not it. This book is the story of the Handlers and Mattel. Barbie is hardly mentioned. To me it reads like an 8th graders essay. There is information about a fascinating story but is not presented in a very interesting format. A good story but could and should have been a lot better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book, i just git the sample though. Shoul i buY it?