The inventor of Hot Wheels and the co-founder of Mattel, Elliot Handler, passed away on July 21 due to undisclosed causes at his home in Century City, Calif. He was 95. His passing was confirmed by his daughter, Barbara Segal, after whom the Barbie doll was named. Elliot Handler and his wife Ruth founded Mattel in 1945 out of a garage workshop in Los Angeles with a friend, Harold “Matt” Matson.
The Mattel was derived from the names, Matson and Elliot. Picture frames were the first products from Mattel. But it wasn’t long before Handler created a side business of building dollhouse furniture from picture frame scraps.
The Handlers bought out Matson and then the focus was on toys. Elliot was amazing with designing and developing the product while Ruth was an excellent marketer. Mattel’s toys that were successes early on were musical toys like the Uke-A-Doodle, a child-size ukulele, and a cap gun named the Burp Gun that were advertised on television, a new medium at the time.
But there’s no denying that Mattel’s biggest hit was Barbie, which Ruth designed and was inspired by the paper dolls that her daughter liked. Many were skeptical about the potential of this doll. Elliot Handler told Ruth that no mother will buy “a doll with breasts” for her daughter.
Barbie’s 39-21-33 proportions became controversial for being anti-feminist and for promoting unachievable body expectations for girls. But Barbie was loved by both girls and collectors and it soon became the top-selling fashion doll in the world.