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.
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.
"You can tell it's Mattel, it's swell"
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.
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.
More history on Mattel on Wikipedia.
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