The Mattel company originally produced picture frames and dollhouse accessories from picture frame scraps. With the success of its dollhouse accessories, the company turned its attention to toys. Mattel became publicly traded in 1960 and was the original sponsor of Matty's Funday Funnies from 1959 to 1962.
Ruth Handler had noted that her daughter Barbara, who was becoming a pre-teen, preferred playing with her infant paper dolls and giving them adult roles. She wanted to produce a plastic doll with an adult body but her husband and Mr.Matson thought it wouldn't sell. But when the Handlers were on a European trip, Ruth Handler saw the German Bild Lilli doll (which was not meant for children at all; rather a gag gift for adults) in a Swiss shop and bought it.
Back home she reworked the design of the doll and re-named her Barbie after her daughter. Barbie debuted at the New York toy fair on March 9, 1959. Barbie became an instant success, rocketing the Handlers and their toy company toward fame, if not fortune as well. Later, they would add a boyfriend for Barbie named Ken, after Handler's son as well any many more other "friends and family" for Barbie's world.
Ruth Handler says that when she bought "Bild Lilli" she was ignorant of its adult nature. Handler said that she thought it "was important to a girl's esteem that she plays with a doll with breasts," and Barbie was certainly qualified to be that doll. If the doll originally marketed were human-sized, her measurements would have been 39"-18"-33". Critics claimed measurements were based on male fantasy rather than actual human metrics, and the ostensibly unrealistic size of Barbie has been controversial, with many suggesting that playing with Barbie decreases rather than enhances a girl's self-esteem. In response to criticism, Mattel adjusted the chest measurement down, and the waist measurement up, though the proportions are still uncharacteristic of most women. The undersized waist also accommodated the bulk of fabric at the waistline seams in a garment such as a full-skirted dress, a staple of the Barbie doll's early wardrobe.
What's it worth? Take a look at this Barbie price guide: sold listings for a value indication.