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Businesses That Started In A Garage: Mattel

Each month, I’ve written about a famous company that got its start within the walls of a garage. This week’s company is known throughout the world as the maker of the Barbie doll. I’m speaking of Mattel, of course! So, let’s take a look at how Mattel made its way from a garage to the big time!

The Founders of the Mattel Company

The Mattel company’s history starts with Elliot and Ruth Handler along with their friend Harold ‘Matt’ Matson. Before starting Mattel, Elliot Handler worked as a light fixture designer and artist. He also liked to make dollhouses. His wife, Ruth Handler, contributed her business acumen and creative ideas to develop their company. Harold ‘Matt’ Matson invested in the young company. In fact, it was Harold’s garage in southern California that served as Mattel’s first headquarters when the company was founded in 1945. The company’s name Mattel is a combination of Matson’s and Elliot’s names.

Setting Up Operations

The first items sold by the company included picture frames and furniture for dollhouses. A garage was the perfect setting for making these types of items. Elliot, Ruth, and Harold had space for their tools, materials, and other supplies. Plus, a garage gave them the privacy they needed to focus on their work. Soon, Mattel moved on from picture frames and dollhouse furniture to toys that appealed to the musical tastes of kids.

The Uke-A-Doodle Makes History

What was the first Mattel toy that was really popular with the kids? Answer: The Uke-A-Doodle! Introduced in 1947, the Uke-A-Doodle was a musical toy shaped just like a ukulele. A child simply cranked the handle on this colorful toy to make it play a familiar tune such as “London Bridge”, “Farmer in the Dell” and “Aloha” along with others. The Uke-A-Doodle was the first in a line of unique musical toys made by Mattel.

Moving Mattel Headquarters to Los Angeles

With the great success of the Uke-A-Doodle, Mattel was incorporated in 1948, moving its headquarters to Los Angeles. This move was the first step toward two decades of tremendous creativity and business success. In 1955, Mattel made a very big splash in the toy industry by placing ads on a popular television show called the Mickey Mouse Club. Just imagine how many kids took notice of Mattel toys after seeing them on their favorite TV show!

Barbie Makes Her Debut

In 1959, Mattel introduced Barbie, a three-dimensional doll. It was Ruth Handler who came up with the idea. She even named the doll after her daughter, Barbara. The Barbie doll had fashionable outfits, beautiful hair, and big dreams for her life. So, it’ll come as no surprise that Barbie is the best-selling toy in the history of Mattel. Ken, Barbie’s love interest, was introduced in 1961 while Barbie’s younger sister, Skipper, came along in 1968.

Mattel’s Success in the Toy Industry Continues

Mattel created a lot of other well-known toys including:

  • Hot Wheels in 1968
  • Chatty Cathy in 1960
  • See ‘N Say in 1965
  • Masters of the Universe dolls in 1982

Though the company has changed over the years, it has continued to flourish in its different forms. And it all started with a unique vision, persistence, and a garage with plenty of space for creativity. Thanks for reading. -Alan

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