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This story takes place in the 1930s. Its a story that starts out sounding like one weve all heard before. A young girl meets a boy and they fall in love. The girl graduates from high school. She has visions of a great career success in the real world and wants to go to college. Her parents are not overly enthusiastic about college since it is more traditional for a girl to get married and raise a family. The girl goes to college anyway and marries the boy too. This married girl and boy are Ruth and Elliot Handler. They raise two children, Barbie and Ken. In the mid 1940s, the young ambitious duo Ruth and Elliot Handler, owned a company that made wooden picture frames. Elliot and his partner Harold Mattson built the samples and Ruth was in charge of marketing them. Elliot began to use the scraps of wood from picture frames to make doll furniture. This was the beginning of their toy business. It was in 1945 that Ruth and Elliot Handler joined with their close friend Harold Mattson to form a company that would be known for the most famous and successful doll ever created. This company would be named Mattel, MATT for Mattson, and EL for Elliot. Mattel continued to grow from a very profitable business into a corporate giant. In the mid 1950s, while visiting Switzerland, Ruth Handler purchased a German Lilli doll. Lilli was a shapely, pretty fashion doll first made in 1955. She was originally fashioned after a famous cartoon character in the West German Newsletter, Bild. Lilli was made of hard plastic with molded on shoes and earrings. She was available in 11 " or 7" in heights. Her hair was long and

pulled back into a ponytail. There was a large wardrobe available for this doll. Lilli is the doll that would inspire Ruth Handler to design the Barbie doll.

German Bild Lilly 1957

Ruth knew what she wanted Barbie to look like. With the help of her technicians and engineers at Mattel, Barbie was born. Ruth then hired Charlotte Johnson, a fashion designer, to create Barbies wardrobe. It was in 1958 that the patent for Barbie was obtained. This would be a fashion doll unlike any of her time. She would be long limbed, shapely and beautiful, all of this and only 11 " tall. Paper fashion dolls of the times would give way to a three dimensional beauty with a wardrobe of unsurpassed quality. Ruth and Elliot would name their new fashion doll after their own

daughter, Barbie. Barbie dolls soon to be boyfriend Ken, would be named after their son Ken. In March of 1959, Barbie doll would make her way to the New York Toy Show and receive a cool reception from the toy buyers. She would be viewed as risky to buyers since she was not the typical style selling baby doll of the times. Upon seeing Barbie on store shelves, the public decided differently. By 1960, the mood would change and the orders started pouring in to Mattel. It took several years for Mattel to catch up with the demand for Barbie. Within ten years, the public purchased $500 million worth of Barbie products. Barbie has undergone a lot of changes over the years and has managed to keep up with current trends in hairstyles, makeup and clothing. She is a reflection of the history of fashion since her introduction to the toy market. Barbie has a universal appeal and collectors of all ages enjoy time spent and memories made with their dolls.

Woman inventor Ruth Handler

Original 1959 Barbie Doll

Playmobil: allowing children to make up their own story

By Harry Wallop There used to be more than a 1,000 toy makers in the small town of Zirndorf, Bavaria. Tap, tap, tapping away, making wooden dolls, hobby horses and metal soldiers. Toys, as we know them, started life in this area of Germany, where the craftsmen were skilled and the tin mines provided plentiful raw material. Most of the toy firms have shut, or gone to China where more than eight out of every 10 toys in the world are now made. But there is one left: Brandstatter, the company that makes Playmobil. In an anonymous modern building, resembling the sales office of a pharmaceutical company, works the last great Gepetto of Bavaria: Horst Brandstatter. He is 76 now, and wears slippers to work but he is the man who is responsible for bringing to life 2.3 billion little plastic people, with stiff legs, no noses and smiley faces, who live forever in toy cupboards and under sofas around the world. That's three times the population of Europe. All are accompanied by the vehicles, accessories and buildings that make up the world of Playmobil: fire engines, dumper trucks, spades, swords, kettles, octopuses, palaces for princesses and castles for knights. Everything in 1:24 scale. Playmobil is often overshadowed by Lego, the only toy company in Europe that beats it for size. But in many ways its survival and

the way it has flourished during the recession is more remarkable. While every major toymaker in the world, Mattel, Hasbro and even Lego, has sold out to the Hollywood studios and TV production companies, Playmobil continues to tap, tap, tap away at its own designs.

Playmobil Apple Store Mr Brandstatter is adamant that the company will not start to make licensed toys such as Star Wars or Harry Potter Playmobil. "Children should make their own story. And I hope that there is enough fantasy in the Playmboil world that they can make their own story. I hope we can keep with that philosophy."

Downstairs from Herr Brandstatter's office, a team of 60 designers is working on the 100 new items that will come out this year. They take inspiration from the hundreds of letters children send in every month and from their own archive. For every 100 new items designed, 100 are retired, sent to the vaults to join the 2.9 inch-high circus people and Wild West gunslingers who haven't seen the light of day for a decade or more. It takes three years from drawing board to finished product, and at every stage the designers have to keep asking themselves "would Hans Beck approve?". Herr Beck, who died last year, was the original designer of Playmobil, hired by a young Herr Brandstatter back in 1958. He was the one who decided toy tractors needed toy farmers who could get out of the seat and walk even if it was in a stiff jointed kind of way. When it launched in 1974 at the Nuremberg toy fair, the company, which had then just celebrated its centenary, was on its last legs. The oil crisis had meant its ride-on plastic tractors were costing more to make than they could sell them for, and its best-selling toy telephones were being slaughtered by the latest craze: a walkie talkie. Herr Beck's genius was to make something utterly unfashionable, something that would appeal to any child, anywhere in the world the moment you put the figure into their hands. Retailers were initially sceptical, but children proved the adults wrong.

"This man understood children," says Herr Brandstatter. "What is the secret to Playmboil? I tell you: it's not what you can see, it's what happens here," and at this point he taps his professorial head, with its pince nez resting on the end of his nose. "Children think they use toys on the table or floor. But everything is up here." Another tap. The initial range of Red Indians, construction workers and knights flew off the shelves. And the fact they used relatively little expensive plastic meant they were very profitable. Herr Beck's true legacy, however, was his belief that his toys should not encourage violence or horror. "We could make a lot of money making Playmobil tanks," says Herr Brandstatter. "But there is enough real violence in the world." So, Playmobil figures have become the international peacekeeping force of the toy world, shrugging off the irony that during the Second World War, the Brandstatter factory was converted to a hand-grenade facility for the Wehrmacht. Zirndorf, now, is a living tribute to Herr Beck's peaceful vision. The only place to stay is at the Playmobil Inn. The toothbrush mugs have little smiley faces and full-size Playmobil knights stand guard over the apfelsaft dispenser at breakfast. The hotel overlooks Playmobil Land, a theme park opened 10 years ago. Unlike Legoland, where eye-watering prices require the sale of a kidney to enter, it is not a money-spinner. The entrance fee is a mere 7.

Bizarrely, it has no rides as such. "We believe the park should be like the toys," said Judith Schweinitz, who was showing me around. "They should not sit on a ride and consume. They should run around be active and engage with everything in their own way." It sounds like a cop-out, but it has created a wonderful place full of scaled-up versions of the Playmobil classics. I briefly disgrace myself on the full-size Viking ship, spinning the wheel and gallivanting around in a manner unbecoming of a father-of-three. Possibly even more fun is the factory itself, which has outgrown its original Zirndorf home and moved 15 miles down the road. The smell of plastic hits you, as you drive through the gates. 17,000 tons of the stuff are used every year. It arrives in tiny chips, which are stored in 100-foot high silos, before being melted, coloured and pumped into ultra-sophisticated injection moulds. As you walk the factory floor, you suddenly spot a cow, a wing of a dragon, a castle turret or a meerkat coming steadily down the lines. Few workers; just the whirr-kerpish of hi-tech machines fills the cavernous space. The factory produces seven million separate injection moulded pieces every day. And given the recent success of the company sales increased by 33 per cent last year in Britain to 18 million it is tempting to think this outpost of Bavarian industry will continue indefinitely. But Herr Brandstatter worries that this might not be possible. Every year he notices that children grow up quicker and quicker, abandoning their toys in favour of a PlayStation or Nintendo.

And every year Playmobil's toys have to become more sophisticated to compete. Next year Playmobil which for the last 35 years has assiduously shunned batteries is launching a remotecontrol car with video camera. You can tell he disapproves. "Sometimes we would like Playmobil to be even more simple. But the children want new things. We are living in a different time to 50 years ago." A big sigh and shake of the head. "The kids must understand the computer, they must use the computer. But they need to play to understand the world. Our target is keep Playmobil as something kids can use to get away from the computer just for a while. I hope we can keep doing that." I hope so too.

Inventor of Playmobil, Hans Beck, 1929-2009

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