March 9, 2020
Day 69 of 366
March 9th is the sixty-ninth day of the year. It is Teachers’ Day, also known as Eid Al Moalim, in Lebanon.
In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Barbie Day, National Crabmeat Day, National Get Over it Day, National Meatball Day, and National Napping Day. That last one is typically observed on the day after the return of Daylight Saving Time because one has to pick up that extra hour somewhere.
Historical items of note:
- In 1454, Italian cartographer and explorer Amerigo Vespucci was born.
- In 1815, English inventor Francis Ronalds described the first battery-operated clock in Philosophical Magazine.
- In 1841, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on the case of United States v. The Amistad. They decided that that captive Africans who had seized control of the ship carrying them had been taken into slavery illegally.
- In 1842, Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera, Nabucco, premiered in Milan. This success established Verdi as one of Italy’s foremost opera composers.
- In 1862, USS Monitor and CSS Virginia fought to a draw in the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War. This was the first battle between two ironclad warships.
- In 1910, pianist and composer Samuel Barber was born.
- In 1934, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was born. He was the first human in space.
- In 1943, chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer was born.
- In 1979, actor Oscar Isaac was born.
- In 2011, Space Shuttle Discovery made its final landing after 39 flights.
At the top, I mentioned that it was National Barbie Day. That’s because, in 1959, the Barbie doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York.
The iconic (and often controversial) fashion doll was created by Ruth Handler. She was inspired by her daughter, Barbara, who would play with paper dolls and give them adult roles. At that point, most children’s dolls represented infants, and Handler saw an opportunity. She suggested the idea to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of Mattel, but the board of directors wasn’t enthusiastic until the Handlers brought Bild Lilli toy dolls back from a trip to Germany.
The Bild Lilli dolls were exactly what Ruth Handler had in mind. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character from a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. Lilli was a blonde bombshell working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The doll was first sold in Germany in 1955 for adults, but it later became popular with children who dressed her in separately available outfits.
Handler redesigned the Lilli doll with help from aerospace engineer and Mattel toy designer Jack Ryan. (There’s a Tom Clancy joke in here somewhere.) She then named it Barbie – the full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts – after her daughter.
After its debut, the doll was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model” with fashions hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers. Some parents were unhappy about Barbie’s obvious breasts, but Ruth Handler was adamant that the doll should maintain an adult appearance. The toy has been controversial over the years, from body image concerns to diversity and role model inspirations. Despite this, the toy has an avid following and a healthy collecting market. An estimated one billion Barbie dolls (or more) have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries.
The Barbie doll was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Ruth Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1970 and survived, creating her own breast prosthesis after a radical mastectomy. Afterward, she formed a company to follow her designs. She resigned from Mattel after investigations of fraud in the late seventies. She died from complications of surgery for colon cancer in 2002 at the age of 85, and her husband died nine years later at the age of 94.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.