Tag Archives: Mattel

Kid Stuff: Barbie

No doll has ever captured the imagination of American girls the way Barbie has. She celebrated her 50th birthday in 2009. Uploaded to Photobucket by bcsmith46.

She looks pretty good for 50, don’t you think? It’s rather amazing to see the impact a simple doll has had on American girls. She doesn’t talk. She doesn’t wet. She doesn’t come with some goofy birth certificate. She’s a doll, for heaven’s sake.

And yet…she’s become an icon, both revered and reviled. Some say that Barbie’s figure leads girls to unrealistic body image issues, and contributes to anorexia and bulimia. Yeah, well. Mattel has sold over a billion of the things. There’s not that many people with eating disorders.

Uploaded by 0.tqn.com.

Did you know her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts? Or that she’s had more than 80 careers? That she’s had 43 pets? That she didn’t have a belly button for 41 years? Personally, I don’t know whether she’s stringing Ken along or vice versa, but I think their relationship has been platonic long enough.

So to Barbie, I say congratulations on your longevity. And happy birthday. It’s hard to imagine an American girl’s room without you.

(Originally published April 10, 2009)

(By the way…a friend of mine, Stacy McAnulty, just published an online book called My Life According to Barbie. I can personally testify that it’s funny, because I served as its copy editor. It’s available for Kindle, iPad and the Nook.)

Kid Stuff: Chatty Cathy

Chatty Cathy is celebrating her 50th birthday in 2010. I don't think she looks a day over four. Uploaded by webspace.webring.com.

Toy makers had been trying to develop a talking doll for decades, but what they came up with was either cumbersome or unnatural. Then the Mattel folks – actually, the same man who had developed the phenomenally popular Barbie (Great American Things, April 10, 2009) – came up with the idea of putting a mini-phonograph in the dolly’s stomach, activated by a pull-string. VoilĂ ! Chatty Cathy was born.

Cathy is celebrating her 50th birthday this year. At first she was only able to say 11 sentences, including “I love you,” and “Please take me with you.” A few years later her vocabulary increased to 18 phrases, such as “Let’s play school,” “May I have a cookie,” and “Please brush my hair.”

Uploaded by monaschattys.net.

The original Chatty Cathy was available for four or six years (sources differ). She began with blonde hair and blue eyes, but brunette, auburn, and African-American Cathy dolls came along a couple of years later. Chatty Cathy dolls are twenty inches tall, and the originals had soft vinyl skin (so lifelike!).

If you could find an original Chatty Cathy, and if by miracle it still talked (most are mute due to a broken phonograph), it would likely be worth $600 to $1000. But to girls who grew up in the 1960s, she would be much more valuable for the memories she brings…

Kid Stuff: View-Master

View-Master disks were originally marketed as a replacement for travel postcards. Then somebody finally figured out that the real market was kids. Uploaded by screenrant.com.

The stereoscope, a way of viewing 3-D images, wasn’t a new thing when View-Master began producing its first viewers and disks. So when it was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, its purpose was to replace the traditional postcard with travel images. Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon (Great American Things, August 4, 2009) were the destinations featured on the earliest disks.

Although the manufacturers featured some lighthearted subjects along the way, it wasn’t until the early 1950s — and the use of Disney characters and the newly opened Disneyland — that View-Master came into its own as a toy.

Uploaded by t3.com.

The company changed hands many times over the years. Its owners have included GAF, Ekco Housewares, Ideal Toy, Tyco Toys, Mattel, and Mattel’s Fisher Price division. Scenics are still produced, but animated characters is still where the real View-Master money is.

Though the exterior materials have changed, the actual viewing device isn’t all that different from the first model made back in 1939. When you’ve produced more than 25 models of the viewer and 1.5 billion disks, people take notice. View-Master was among the original inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame back in November, 1999…