Emily Ruby, Curator, Heinz History Center:
Here we are in the 1960s living room. Now this is based on one of the most popular toys of the decade – Barbie’s dream house. Barbie was actually invented in 1959 by Ruth Handler, who saw her daughter assigning adult roles to her baby doll. She invented Barbie doll and it was produced by Mattel. Not to be outdone by Mattel, Hasbro decided to invent a doll for boys, but you couldn’t call it a doll. In 1964, G.I. Joe debuted as an action soldier, but because of the conflict in Vietnam, he became a “man of action” in the 1970s. Even though the Barbie doll offered girls more career options for their future, many toys for girls still emphasized their role as a mother and homemaker, such as the Easy-Bake Oven.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s created some increased diversity in the doll market with the premiere of Christie, which was the first African American Barbie doll. We also had the Julia doll, which premiered in 1968. She was based on the popular television show “Julia,” which starred an African American single mother.
In 1961, President Kennedy vowed to put a man on the moon. The ensuing space race with Russia made people obsessed with all things space-themed, including toys. There was the Alpha-One Ballastic Missile. There was the G.I. Joe astronaut. But the Cold War also created many spy and espionage type toys based on shows like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and 007.