How Elliot Handler Became Rich with Barbie Dolls

On April 9 in the year 1916, one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the toy industry was born in Illinois, USA. His name was Elliot Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, the company that makes Barbie and Ken dolls and other children’s toys.

Elliot Handler
Elliot Handler (Photo Credit:

Elliot Handler was born to a Jewish couple of moderate means. He studied industrial arts in Pasadena, California. After graduation, he worked in a succession of odd jobs which included designing jewelry and dollhouse furniture.

In 1945, Elliot Handler and his business partner Harold “Matt” Matson formed Mattel Creations, the name coming from Matt and Elliot. The first products were picture frames followed by a musical toy called Uke-A-Doodle. The business became successful but for unknown reasons, Matt sold his shares to the Elliot Handler and his wife, Ruth. The couple made a formidable business team with Elliot handling product development and Ruth taking care of marketing.

1955 was a watershed year for Mattel when it partnered with Walt Disney for a television program. Although it was a costly move for the small company, the television exposure pushed Mattel into the forefront of the industry and at the same time created immense brand awareness. In 1959, the company came out with Barbie dolls, a product that in no time became a worldwide must-have toy. It was soon followed by a talking Chatty Cathy doll in 1960, the fictional boyfriend of Barbie, Ken, in 1961, and Hot Wheels in 1968.

Elliot Handler died of heart failure in 2011 at the age of 95. He had two children with wife Ruth.


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