Barbie has been a cultural icon since she hit the toy aisle more 60 years ago—and now, the doll is about to make her big screen live-action debut. The movie, co-written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, comes out July 21. Before you head to the theater, here’s what you need to know about the doll that started it all.
Barbie’s official birthday represents her public debut at the 1959 American International Toy Fair in New York. She stood 11 inches tall and was dressed for a pool party in her black and white striped one-piece. Barbie was instantly recognizable as the only toy in the doll aisle that wasn’t modeled as a baby or a little kid—having a grown woman as a plaything for children was an entirely new concept. One thing she didn't have at first? A belly button. That was added to her design more than 40 years later, in 2000.
Jack Ryan began his career as an engineer, making missiles for the Pentagon, but was eventually hired away by Mattel for his “space-age savvy” and knowledge of materials (meaning, he’d be able to make high-quality, well-functioning toys). His designs helped give Barbie her twistable waist and “click click” knee joints.
Barbie was first released on March 9, 1959 at a toy fair in New York after seven years of battling disagreements. At the time, Mattel was the third largest toy company in the United States. Ruth's display of Barbie was housed at the New Yorker Hotel in a hotel room, since so many businesses brought their toys to put on display. She had to halt the projected production that she assumed she would acquire in business orders at the fair. It was a disappointing day for Ruth and Barbie. In March 1959, Barbie debuted as a teen fashion model on television with more positive response leading the way for the dolls popularity rise.