"We didn't know how to run a business, but we had dreams and talent." – Ruth Handler
Think about your younger self. You know them. They're sitting down on the floor either making "vroom" sounds across the floor, imagining they're the fastest car driver in the world, or they're whispering dreams and secrets to a favorite doll. This is what the Handlers did for our childhood. They made our dreams come alive.
Where They Met
Both Elliot Handler and Ruth Handler (née Mosko) were born to Jewish families. Elliot was born on April 9, 1916, in Chicago; his family would move to Denver soon after. Ruth was born a couple of months later on November 4, 1916, in Denver. The pair would eventually meet at a high school dance in Denver. Then, after they were married, they moved to L.A. together where they would take their first steps as a mom-and-pop garage business.
The Creation of Mattel
The business didn’t look like much inside the Handlers' garage. It had three pieces of shop equipment, scraps of picture frames, and a lot of love. Elliot would start making furniture but found real success with his side business of making dollhouse furniture from scraps. Together, with business partner Harold "Matt" Matson, they would smash their names together to make Mattel. "Matt" from Matson, "El" from Elliot.
In the early day of Mattel, courtesy of Mattel
While Elliot loved making things, Ruth had an amazing talent for marketing them. The Uke-a-Doodle was a child-sized ukulele that would give them their first profits in 1947. After the first major sign of success, Mattel turned its main attention to toys. By 1955, Mattel was on its way to becoming the number one toy brand in the world.
The Birth of Barbie
The Handlers had two children together. Barbara and Kenneth would soon be immortalized in their parents’ toy-making. Barbara was a normal pre-teen playing with paper dolls. Ruth noticed two things: one, paper clothing doesn’t attach to paper dolls that well. Two, children would often act out future events rather than the present when playing. Ruth wanted to solve both of these problems with a new kind of doll.
She wanted to produce a grown-up, three-dimensional doll that girls like her daughter and her friends could use to act out their dreams, their futures, and their hopes. She would name this doll after her daughter, Barbara. Thus, Barbie was born.
Handler Family circa 1960s, courtesy of Mattel
Family and friends of the Handlers seem to be the inspiration to name and produce toys. They would give Barbie a boyfriend soon after her creation. He was named after their son, Kenneth. When Barbara married her husband, Allan, he would be named for Ken’s friend, Allan who debuted in the 1960s.
Fast and Furiously Cool
The 1960s was a thriving time for the Handlers and Mattel. They had an incredible amount of success with Barbie and her friends. Mattel was thirsty to do the same for boys as Barbie did for girls. That's when Elliot had an idea. What if there was a miniature car that would incorporate speed and cool car designs? Thus, in 1968, Hot Wheels were born.
With numerous amounts of paint jobs, designs, and endless possibilities, Hot Wheels were the hottest toy on the market. Exactly what Mattel wanted to do. Because of their accomplishments together as a married couple, the Handlers were the first living inductees to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 1989.
Good People Make Incredible Toys
Mattel remembers the Handlers with as much love as the love they put into their toys.
"Employees also held the Handlers in high esteem, due to their thoughtfulness and ability to make every employee feel that his or her contribution to the organization was valuable. In fact, the Handlers insisted that all of their employees call them by their first names at a time when such informality was unprecedented," stated Mattel on its website.
Ruth Handler would pass away in 2002 because of colon cancer. Her husband, Elliot, passed away in 2011 from heart failure. Mattel still leads the toy industry with the Handlers' continued success.
What good memories do you have about your favorite toys? Let us know in the comments below.