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
One story is based on indisputable
truth, while the other is either truth or urban legend, depending on
which source you want to believe.
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
The Handlers left the company in the
[to top of
second column in this article]
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
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
there's no doubt who Barbie was named after.
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at
Paul Niemann 2004