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Where did the
Barbie doll and
Baby Ruth originate?

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By Paul Niemann

[MARCH 4, 2004]  Today we learn about two success stories and the real-life women behind them.

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One was the brainchild of a very successful female CEO at a time when there weren't many women executives in corporate America, while the other was supposedly identified with the child of a first lady.

One has its roots in the proverbial "inventor's garage," while the other supposedly was born in the White House. I'm talking, both figuratively and literally, about the Barbie doll and the Baby Ruth candy bar.

One of the individuals was among the first female CEOs our country has ever seen, while the other supposedly was the first child born to a president's family in the Executive Mansion.

One story is based on indisputable truth, while the other is either truth or urban legend, depending on which source you want to believe.

Barbie doll

Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler was 43 years old when she introduced the world to the Barbie doll. The Mattel company was started in 1943, and the name was Ruth's idea; she combined the names of the two co-founders: her husband, Elliot Handler, and Harold Mattson. Prior to Barbie, most dolls were made of two-dimensional cardboard and were patterned after babies, not full-grown women. Ruth wanted to create a doll that inspired girls to think about what they wanted to become when they got older.

Named after the Handlers' daughter, Barbie has accompanied millions of girls through their childhood years. Her boyfriend, Ken, was named after real-life Barbie's real-life brother. More than a billion Barbie dolls have been sold since Barbie arrived on the scene at the annual Toy Fair in New York City in 1959.

Oddly enough, when Handler approached the all-male group of ad executives at Mattel, the group rejected the idea because they thought the doll was too expensive and didn't have enough potential.

The Barbie doll is the toy industry's most successful product line of all time, a line that consists of more than 600 different Barbies. A Barbie was even included in the official "America's Time Capsule" buried at the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.

The Handlers left the company in the mid-1970s.


[to top of second column in this article]

Baby Ruth

The Baby Ruth candy bar, a product of the Curtiss Candy Company, made its debut in 1921. The company claims that the bar was named after President Grover Cleveland's baby daughter, who was born in 1892.

This is where it gets interesting -- and where the urban legend comes into play.

The Curtiss Candy Company claims that the name and the style of lettering were patterned after a medallion at a Chicago expo in 1893. The medallion pictured the president, along with his wife and daughter.

The Curtiss company's main office was in Chicago, and this was their official explanation of the bar's name: "Our candy bar made its initial appearance in 1921, some years before Babe Ruth became famous. The similarity of names, therefore, is purely coincidental." The company went on to explain that Ruth Cleveland visited the Curtiss Candy Company when the company was just getting started.

Since Ruth Cleveland had died at the age of 12 in 1904 and the company wasn't founded until 1916, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that their claim wasn't totally accurate. Then again, both the company and the presidential medallion mentioned earlier were from Chicago. Plus, the candy bar was named "Baby Ruth" rather than "Babe Ruth."

By 1921, when the candy bar made its debut, Babe Ruth had become a famous Yankees outfielder, while Grover Cleveland had been out of office for more than 25 years. This makes it hard to believe that the candy bar was named after Ruth Cleveland.

So are we really supposed to believe that the company named the candy bar after the former president's daughter rather than a rising star like Babe Ruth?

It's hard to say for sure. Just as there's no consensus in the 100-year-old debate as to who invented the game of baseball (Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday), there's no consensus as to which person the famous candy bar was named after.

At least there's no doubt who Barbie was named after.

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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