Mattel was founded in 1945 by Elliot and Ruth Handler. The youngest of ten children of Polish immigrants, Ruth was a secretary for Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles when she married Elliot Handler, an industrial engineer.
"You can tell it's Mattel, it's swell"
Handler started out designing light fixtures but soon began making furniture to sell out of his garage. The business attracted four partners and quickly rose to become a $2 million enterprise making giftware and costume jewelry. By 1945 Elliot Handler grew restless and wanted a new business approach to remain competitive in the fast-changing postwar world. Handler's plans led to a dispute with his partners and he sold his interest in the company at a loss. Meanwhile, also in 1945, Ruth hooked up with an old friend, Harold "Matt" Matson, and they started Mattel Creations, with Elliot designing products. The name Mattel was formed by combining Matson's last name with Handler's first name. Ill health soon forced Matson to sell out.
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. In 1955, Mattel changed toy marketing forever, by acquiring the rights to produce the popular "Mickey Mouse Club" products. The cross-marketing promotion became common practise for future toy companies. In the same year Mattel released its successful patented toy cap gun called the burp gun. Mattel became publicly traded in 1960 and was the original sponsor of Matty's Funday Funnies from 1959 to 1962.
Throughout the 1960s, the company diversified its lineup by purchasing smaller toy companies that produced unrelated toy product lines. In 1966, Mattel purchased a small manufacturer of low-quality plastic lunchboxes. It began exploring ideas for using this company's processes to make new products out of formed plastic. An employee noted that Matchbox was producing a line of die-cast cars but that the cars' wheels didn't roll well. Mattel created a competing line of small toy cars using superior bearings that enabled the new cars to roll further. They paired this advantage with formed plastic technology from the acquired company that allowed Mattel to develop innovative chassis that excited their target market, boys. This resulted in the very successful Hot Wheels line. An independent audit of Mattel -released on November 3, 1975- revealed that company officials had fabricated press releases and financial information to "maintain the appearance of continued corporate growth." In 1987, Mattel distributed the NES in Europe, as Nintendo at that time did not have a European office. The early European versions of the NES were called the Mattel Version, while later versions distributed by Nintendo were called the NES Version.
The only difference between the two was "Mattel" or "NES" branding under Nintendo Entertainment System plaque on the face of the console.Between 1986 and 1990, Mattel was also responsible for marketing NES products in Canada, producing bilingual packages, and co-branding them. However, many gray-market American packages were also sold in Canada, which caused Mattel to sue Nintendo. Nintendo eventually took over sole distribution of for North America. In 1993, Mattel merged with the Fisher-Price toy company. In 1996, Mattel purchased Tyco Toys, which was the third largest toy manufacturer at the time.In 1999, the ill-advised purchase of a major software publisher, TLC, for $3.6 billion led to the ouster of CEO Jill Barad. In 2006, Mattel purchased Radica USA, an electronic toy manufacturer. Mattel serves as the parent company for American Girl (formerly Pleasant Company), Radica USA, and Fisher-Price. Currently, it is headquartered in El Segundo, California.
1945: Ruth and Elliot Handler and Harold "Matt" Matson form a partnership called Mattel Creations, making and selling first picture frames and later dollhouse furniture; Matson is soon forced to sell out because of ill health.
1947: The "Uke-A-Doodle" becomes the first of many hit Mattel toys.
1948: The company is incorporated in California.
1955: In a revolutionary move, Mattel becomes a year-round sponsor of the Walt Disney television program Mickey Mouse Club.
1959: Mattel introduces the Barbie doll, which will eventually become the best-selling toy ever.
1960: Mattel goes public.
1963: The company gains a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
1968: Hot Wheels miniature model cars, another spectacular hit, are introduced.
1974: The Handlers are ousted from the company after investigators find that the company issued false and misleading financial reports.
1983: The company verges on bankruptcy with a $394 million loss after an ill-advised venture into video games.
1987: John W. Amerman, who has been named chairman, revitalizes the company through an emphasis on core brands.
1988: Mattel revives its collaboration with Disney.
1993: Fisher-Price Inc., the world leader in infant and preschool toys, is acquired.
1997: Mattel buys out Tyco Toys, Inc., the third largest U.S. toy maker.
1998: Pleasant Company, maker of the American Girl brand, is acquired.
1999: The Learning Co., a major player in computer games and educational software, is acquired for $3.5 billion.
2000: Mattel sells off Learning Co. at a huge loss; the company reports a net loss for the year of $430.9 million.
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