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"The little-known stories behind well-known inventions"

Where did the Barbie doll and Baby Ruth get their names?          By Paul Niemann

[FEB. 15, 2007]  Today we learn about two highly successful products and the real-life women behind them. One was born to one of the first female CEOs in our country's history, while the other -- supposedly -- was born to a first lady.

One traces its roots to the proverbial "inventor's garage," while the other one -- since the story is either truth or urban legend, depending on which source you want to believe -- might have its roots in the White House.


Prior to the three-dimensional Barbie doll, most dolls were two-dimensional and made of cardboard. They came with paper dresses with little tabs that bent over the edges of the doll, as well as hats with slits to slide over their heads. Like her cardboard predecessors, the Barbie dolls were also patterned after full-grown women. Ruth wanted to create a doll that inspired girls to think about what they wanted to become when they grew up.

Ruth named the Barbie doll after her daughter. She also created the Mattel name in 1943 when she combined the names of the company's co-founders: Elliot Handler, who was her husband, and Harold Mattson. 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 advertising executives at Mattel, the group rejected her Barbie doll 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. Barbie also inspired the creation of another "doll" -- G.I. Joe.

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Baby Ruth

The Baby Ruth candy bar made its debut in 1921 as a product of the Curtiss Candy Company. 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 main Curtiss office was in Chicago, and their official explanation of the bar's name was: "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 (the candy bar made its debut in 1921), 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, Babe Ruth had become the 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. At least there's no doubt where Barbie got her name.

Paul Niemann may be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2007

(Text from file received from Paul Niemann)

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