GEM celebrates Barbie with exhibit: 50 Fashionable Years

CAMDEN, Md. – Geppi’s Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards (“GEM”) has unveiled a new exhibit focusing on America’s favorite blonde: Barbie. The panoramic display, which will be available to view through and including May 31, 2009, includes more than 60 dolls from the Barbie franchise, as well as a variety of accessories and a desirable vintage Barbie car.

With her all-American sense of fashion and a willingness to explore new clothing trends, hair colors and hairstyles, Barbie has fascinated fans for half a century. She deservedly earned the title of “trailblazer” when she debuted in 1959, her curvaceous figure outfitted in a black-and-white striped swimsuit, and has kept us interested ever since.

GEM’s Curator, Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg, explained the doll’s history: “Before Barbie, it was assumed that girls only wanted to play with baby dolls, but in 1955, Ruth Handler bought a German Bild Lilli doll. The adult female doll with an extensive wardrobe inspired Ruth, who had also noticed that her own daughter preferred to play with adult dolls.”

Handler decided to develop her own version of a fashion doll through which girls could live a vicarious fantasy life, Dr. Blumberg said. “With the help of her husband, Elliott, who just happened to run Mattel-Handler, she bought the Lilli patent, named the new version after her daughter’s nickname, and Barbie Millicent Roberts was born.”

In the first year of production, Barbie sold more than 350,000 dolls. She would later be joined by a cast of characters that included boyfriend Ken (in 1961), sisters Skipper and Tutti, brother Todd, and friends Midge, Skooter, Ricky and Chris. In 10 years, Barbie generated more than half a billion dollars in sales and became both a worldwide icon and the target of intense feminist criticism because of her unrealistic measurements that, converted to real life, would have been 38-18-33.

In addition to the exhibit itself – which holds universal appeal to children, parents and grandparents – there are opportunities for young visitors to play with present-day examples of Barbies and related Barbie toys in the museum’s Special Edition Room. “As they play, children will be able to compare the fashions and hairstyles of today to those of earlier generations, so it becomes a learning experience, as well,” said Dr. Blumberg.

Geppi’s Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards, whose collection contains many rare antique and collectible toys, comic books and other memorabilia, is located on the second floor at 301 W. Camden St., Baltimore, MD 21201. For additional information call 410-625-7060, e-mail or log on to