Ruta Moskowicz aka Ruth Handler with her Barbie doll – early 1990s.

American Director Greta Gerwig’s new film about Barbie – one of the most popular toys in history – has made the doll famous all over again. Introduced into the market in 1959, Barbie quickly became a sales hit and contributed to the popularity of Mattel products. Despite the differing opinions and emotions which it generated throughout the decades, it became a phenomenon which permanently entered the American iconosphere.

The story of the Barbie doll begins in the second half of the 1950s, but it is worth going back even earlier in order to tell the story of its creator Ruth Moskowicz Handler and her family.

Ruth was born in Denver, into a Jewish family from Poland, on 4th November 1916. Her father, Jakub (Jankiel) Moskowicz, came from Parysów near Garwolin. In 1894, he lived in Warsaw, at ul. Twarda 58. In that same year, at the age of twenty-six he married Ida (Chaja) Rubinstein[1.1].

At ul. Twarda 58 (No. 1147-D/24), at the intersection of ul. Złota and ul. Żelazna, was a tenement, with two outbuildings, belonging to Morgensztern. Despite being damaged during the German occupation in the Second World War and having survived that, it was nevertheless demolished. Neighbouring building, however, survived - a small outhouse of the Freiman tenement in the courtyard of No.56, Kaplan’s tenement (ul. Twarda 62) and the Krongold tenement (ul. Żelazna 31/ul Twarda 49)[1.2]

Twelve years later, in 1906, Jakub Moskowicz, already the father of seven children, decided to emigrate to the United States. His name appears on the passenger manifest of the “SS Baltic”, which left Liverpool on 6th April 1906 and arrived in New York harbour ten days later.

By trade, Jakub was a blacksmith. It was suggested to him that he seek employment with the Union Pacific Railroad, based in Denver, Colorado. This is why he ended up in that city with which he became involved for the rest of his life. In Denver, he established a thriving company which produced truck chasis. Ida and the children joined Józef, in America, probably two years later.

Over time, the family shortened their surname to “Mosko”. However, in the 1920 census, it still appeared as “Moskowicz (Moskovitz).

In 1916, almost at the same time as the wedding of the eldest daughter Sara, Ruth was born – the tenth child of Jakub and Ida. Their mother’s illness meant that the eldest sister and her husband, Louis Greenwald, took care of the newborn. Ruth lived with them until she became independent and moved to Los Angeles.

In 1938, Ruth married Elliot Handler, the son of Jewish immigrants. Elliot’s mother was born in Bobły near Turiisko [Pol. Turzysk], while his father was born in Lukiv [Pol. Maciejów]. These towns are located in the western part of Volyn [Pol. Wołyń]. Prior to 1939, they were in the then Kowel district of the Second Polish Republic. Now, they form part of Ukraine. They arrived in New York in 1914, on the “SS Vaderland”.

Ruth Handler and Barbie in a 1959 advertising photograph

In 1938, Ruth and Elliot moved to Los Angeles. Elliot took up plexiglass design. Working together with Harold “Matt” Matson, he first created items for apartments and then moved on to furniture for dolls. They were accompanied by Ruth, who also was the contact point with sellers. In 1945, they founded their new company “Mattel” - its product range was to be based on children’s toys. Its name was a combination Elliot’s first name and Harold’s nickname. Ruth became its president.

The first product to hit the market, in the late 1940s, was Uke-A-Doodle toy ukelele. Despite their fear of being unsuccessful, Ruth’s bold decisions meant that, in the 1950s, Mattel was already earning profits of several million. In the second half of the decade, the Handler couple began working on a new toy that went on sale in 1959. 

Barbie was the first adult female doll on the American market. The inspiration for its creation was observation of the Handlers’ daughter, Barbara who, with her friends, played with cardboard dolls. Their conversations imitated those of adults.

Work began in 1956, the impulse for which was discovering a Bild Lilly doll in Vienna. However, that was a product inspired by a comic strip appearing in the German press – not intended for children. Ruth, on the other hand, came up with a doll for younger girls, the doll having changeable clothes. It quickly turned out that Barbie is the best-selling doll in history. In 1961, Ken, her companion hit the market. This was not the only success in the company’s history – it is sufficient enough to mention the Hot Wheels (1968) cars.

In 1970, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a mastectomy, she found the Ruthton Corporation, a company which produced breast protheses for women. Ruth Moskowicz Handler died on 27th April 2002. Elliot outlived her by nine years. He died in 2011 at the age of ninety-five.

The Moskowicz family was one of many who who decided to emigrate form Poland to America. In the years 1880-1914, over a milion Jews emigrated from Russia, mainly from the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth[1.3].

As Dariusz Jeziorny wrote: 

“Their masses were poor, uneducated, strongly connected with the orthodox tradition, distinct in terms of religion, language, customs and clothes, self-organising into closed national communities in large cities, where they went to work as unskilled labour. “However, the majority of this group, thanks to their entrepreneurship, quickly began to play an import role, in economic life, as owners of small food and clothing production factories, traders and wholesalers"[1.4].

Their achievements, which brought them success in the eager and huge American market, can be found in many fields of endeavour.

Ruth Handler after the introduction of the Ken doll (1961)

In 1888, a shoemaker named Benjamin Wonsal decided to leave for American from Krasnosielc, Mazowiecki Province. He was soon joined by his wife, Perła Leja, and their children. Their descendants created the cinema giants The Warner Bros Company. In 1904, Maksymilian Faktorowicz, from Zduńska Wola. Came to America with his family. He founded the cosmetics firm Max Factor & Company.

The American dream was also apparent in the in inter-War period. At the beginning of the 1930s, Samuel Wilder, raised in Sucha Beskidzka, crossed the ocean. As Billy Wilder, he made history by directing films such as, among others, Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot. 

Closer or (more and more often) more distant, only partially with Jewish roots from the historical lands of the Republic of Poland, there are the contemporary heroes of American entreneurship, including:

  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Alan Greenspan
  • Mark Zuckerberg.

There are also numerous American such as:

  • Jennifer Connelly
  • David Duchovny
  • Bob Dylan
  • Zac Efron
  • Harrison Ford
  • Scarlett Johansson
  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Pink
  • Natalie Portman
  • Winona Ryder and more.

Barbie co-writer, Noah Baumbach may also have Jewish rootsThe story of Ruta Moskowicz, aka Ruth Mosko, is an outstanding example of the stories of many Jewish immigrants from the lands of the Republic of Poland who, thanks to their talents and sense of innovation, not only succeeded abroad, but also changed the world.

As evidenced by the contemporary resonance of Barbie, in the United States alone, in the first four weeks of distribution, the film’s box office has already exceeded half a billion dollars.



  • Altman J., Ruth Mosko Handler, The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women [online:] [accessed 09/08/2023].
  • Gerber R., Barbie i Ruth, Białystok 2017.Rogers M.F., Barbie jako ikona kultury, Warsaw 2003.
  • Zieliński K., Uwagi na temat emigracji żydowskiej z Królestwa Polskiego do USA przed pierwszą wojną światową, “Res Historica” 2022, No.53. 


We sincerely thank Mattel Poland for sharing its iconography 


  • [1.1] The marriage record of Józef Moskowicz and Ida Rubinstein, State archives in Warsaw
  • [1.2] Locations are based on: Marcinkowski R., Ilustrowany atlas dawnej Warszawy, Warszawa 2004, ark. XVIII-a, b. Nazwiska właścicieli na rok 1930, za: Książka informacyjno-adresowa Cała Warszawa 1930, Warsaw 1930, pp. IV–103.
  • [1.3] Zieliński K., Uwagi na temat emigracji żydowskiej z Królestwa Polskiego do USA przed pierwszą wojną światową, “Res Historica” 2022, No. 53
  • [1.4] Jeziorny D., Akcja amerykańskich organizacji żydowskich na rzecz międzynarodowej ochrony praw mniejszości (1918–1919), “Acta Universitatis Lodziensis. Folia Historica” 1997, No.59