A few brands/companies start with a different business idea and end up with another one becoming their best-seller. This best-seller then catapults the company or brand into a magnanimous success story.
Such is the story of Mattel Inc. Lets check interesting facts about its history, products and achievements.
History in brief
Mattel Creations was found in 1945 in a garage by husband-wife duo Elliot and Ruth Handler along with Harold ‘Matt’ Matson.
Before establishing Mattel, Ruth Handler worked as a secretary at Paramount Studios. Elliot Handler was adept at making plastic giftware like clocks, bowls, mirrors, etc. and soon it became their business.
They were joined by Matt, and Mattel initially sold picture frames, followed by making dollhouse furniture with leftover wood out of those frames. Mattel, was a combination of the names Elliot and Matt. Later, Matt sold his shares and stake owing to poor health and were taken by Ruth.
Their first successful toy was an ukulele called ‘Uke-a-doodle’, that was launched in 1947. 1950s saw the launch of The Magic 8-Ball and even today sells around 1 million units annually. Along with it, the popular Snap-Lock Beads, Corn Popper, and Xylophone were introduced, and are still going strong in the Fisher-Price line of toys.
The phenomenon called ‘Barbie’
Ruth saw her daughters play endlessly with paper dolls, pretending to play many roles- cheerleaders, career-oriented women and even students. Here she saw a huge opportunity and decided to create a three-dimensional doll, that could take up any role.
She named the doll Barbara Millicent Roberts, after her daughter Barbara and introduced Barbie’s boyfriend Ken in 1961 named after her son Kenneth. The most loved fictional couple in the world were actually named after a brother-sister duo.
The first Barbie doll was introduced in a black-and-white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model”, with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. It cost $3.
Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold in the first year of production. In the past 50 years, more than 1 billion models have been sold. Recently, Warner Bros. Pictures released a live-action film ‘Barbie’ with Australian actress Margot Robbie playing the titular role.
The doll became phenomenally popular, rather an icon, along with honors being conferred upon her. For example, 1974, a section of Times Square in New York City was renamed
Barbie Boulevard for a week. On her 50th birthday, Barbie had a runway show in New York for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week inviting contributions by fifty well-known haute couturiers including Diane von Fürstenberg, Vera Wang and Christian Louboutin.
In 2013, in Taiwan, the first Barbie-themed restaurant called “Barbie Café” opened under the Sinlaku group. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris at the Louvre held a Barbie exhibit in 2016.
In 1960, Mattel became a publicly traded company and also introduced Chatty Cathy, the second most popular doll after Barbie. The next year saw the Rock-A-Stack being launched, which even after 5 decades, is a popular toy played by every kid at least once.
Around this time, Elliot challenged his team that included a car designer from General Motors and a rocket scientist to create a toy car, that would be a popular toy for boys, just like the Barbie had become for girls.
Thus, was born Hot Wheels, the popular miniature die-cast vehicles that had thrill, speed, power and performance, all packed into one. They were made using a special ‘Spectraflame’ paint process that involved polishing the car body to a mirror shine and spray-painting them with a transparent colored paint, resulting in candy-colored, metallic finish.
Sales topped 16 million in the first year and have hardly slowed since.
Other Popular Mattel Achievements
Uno, the popular card game, was launched in 1971 by Mattel. The brand also collaborated with various artists like Ringo Starr, George Carlin and Alec Baldwin who joined as narrators for their Thomas & Friends series
Mattel acquired Fisher-Price in 1993, adding pre-school toys to Mattel’s kitty. It then acquired ‘American Girl’, a popular line of 18-inch dolls, known for portraying 8-14-year-old girls of various ethnicities, faiths and social classes all through history.
It then acquired HIT entertainment adding popular toys like Bob the Builder and Barney to the Mattel catalogue.