Learn About Mattel the Pop Culture Toy Icon

There have been many toy companies that have designed and produced some of the best toys in history, but only a few have stood the test of time and are still going strong because of how popular their toys are. One of these timeless companies is Mattel, which was founded in 1945 and is currently headquartered in El Segundo, California. To know more about this company, here is a business profile for Mattel.

The Origins of Mattel

a Magic 8-Ball

Mattel was founded in 1945 by couples Elliot Handler and Ruth Handler, as well as their friends and business partner Harold “Matt” Matson. The name “Mattel” is a portmanteau (blend word) of Harold Matson’s surname and Elliot Handler’s first name. The first company name of Mattel was “Mattel Creations” and its operations were conducted in a garage in Los Angeles. 

The company first sold picture frames, and using the offcuts or the excess wood from those frames, the company was able to create and sell pieces of dollhouse furniture. In 1946, Harold Matson sold his share and stake to the Handler couple because of his poor health. [1] A year later, Mattel released their first hit toy, the “Uke-A-Doodle,” which was a toy ukulele.

By 1948, Mattel was incorporated in Hawthorne, California. Then, the Magic 8-Ball, which can show different answers to questions with just a shake of the toy, was sold by Mattel in 1950 and became one of the most popular toys in the following years.

The Creation of Barbie

When Ruth and Elliot Handler’s daughter Barbara was young, Ruth would often watch her play with paper dolls and give them adult roles. During the 1950s, the toy dolls that were available in stores were babies or infants, and Ruth realized that there was a gap in the market for adult toy dolls. So, Ruth Handler conceptualized the idea of an adult-bodied toy doll. Unfortunately, Elliot Handler and the directors of Mattel were not keen on producing adult toy dolls.

When the Handler family went on a trip to Europe in 1956, Ruth saw a toy doll named Bild Lilli. This particular toy doll was based on a comic strip that appeared in the German tabloid newspaper called “Bild-Zeitung.” [2] The Bild Lilli toys were originally designed for adults, but they eventually became a popular toy among children who like to dress up the toys in different outfits. Ruth bought three of these Bild Lilli dolls, with one being given to her daughter Barbara while the others were used by Ruth to legitimize her idea of an adult-bodied toy doll.

With the help of an inventor and designer named Jack Ryan, Ruth Handler redesigned the Bild Lilli doll to make it more appealing to children. Then, Ruth gave a name to the new doll, and the name was “Barbie,” which was inspired by Ruth’s daughter Barbara. The Barbie doll was officially launched on March 9, 1959, at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Interestingly, the date of the doll’s launch was also Barbie’s official birthday. In 1961, Mattel introduced the partner of Barbie, the Ken doll, and this toy was named after one of Ruth’s children, Kenneth Handler.

There are many retro Barbie dolls that have been reissued in recent years, and one of them is the original swimsuit-wearing Barbie doll that was released in 1959. Check out the products below to know more about the reissued retro Barbie dolls.

The Launch of Hot Wheels

Hot Wheels toys

Besides Barbie, there is another successful toy line that Mattel created, and this toy line is Hot Wheels, which was launched in 1968. Hot Wheels is said to have been invented by Elliot Handler, who wanted a new toy line that can compete with Matchbox, a line of miniaturized cars that Elliot’s son Kenneth seemed to like during the 1960s. Matchbox was invented in 1954 by Lesney Products, a British toy company. Matchbox dominated the mini-cars market during the 1950s and 1960s, and each mini-car toy was sold and stored inside a matchbox-looking storage item, hence the name of the toy line.

In order to make Hot Wheels different from Matchbox, Elliot Handler wanted the design of the Hot Wheels cars to look more like “hot rod” cars that are heavily modified with big tires and a custom paint job. With the assistance of Jack Ryan (who also helped design Barbie) and Harry Bentley Bradley, a car designer, Elliot Handler, and Mattel were able to create the first 16 Hot Wheels cars, which would eventually become known as “The Original Sweet 16.” [3]

In 1970, in order to reach fans of automobiles, Mattel decided to create a sponsorship agreement with two known drag racing drivers, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. Besides being sponsored, the cars of the two drag racing drivers, a yellow 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and a red 1970 Plymouth Duster, were also recreated and reproduced as Hot Wheels mini-cars.

While the first 16 vehicles for Hot Wheels have been discontinued a long time ago, Mattel has released anniversary sets and single toys over the years that celebrate the popularity of the toy line. These anniversary sets have become quite rare, so it may be best to get your hands on these sets if you are a collector. Here are a few anniversary sets that you can check out:

The Iconic Red Logo

Before the iconic red logo of Mattel came to be, the company’s logo featured a black circle with small spikes on its edges, and this circle looks similar to the red spiked circle that is present on Mattel’s current logo. Inside the black circle is the name of the company, “Mattel, Inc.,” and this one is colored white and placed on top of the logo. Then, the “Toymakers” text is placed on the bottom of the logo, and at the top of the text is a boy wearing a crown and sitting on a large M. [4] This particular logo was created in 1961 and it would remain as Mattel’s primary logo until 1969 when the red sun logo that we now know today was created as a replacement to the black and white logo.

The new red logo that was launched in 1969 features simpler text inside the spiked circle. The logo only contains the text “Mattel,” to further emphasize the company’s name or brand. This iconic red sun logo would serve as Mattel’s longest-used logo.

Elliot and Ruth Handler’s Exit

In 1974, an investigation was launched in regard to the mishandling of financial reports by Elliot and Ruth Handler. The investigation revealed that the Handler couple issued false and misleading financial reports, and this problem led to the director banishing Ruth and Elliot Handler from the company that they founded. After Elliot and Ruth Handler left the company, the then-vice president of Mattel, Arthur S. Spear, took over as the chairman.

Mattel’s Continued Success

He-Man action figure

By the 1980s, Mattel was able to become one of the most successful toy companies in the world. In 1982, Mattel released the toy line for Masters of the Universe, which was the creation of Roger Sweet, Mark Taylor, and several employees at Mattel. Masters of the Universe would become one of the most popular franchises in the 1980s, and the popularity of the toy line helped Mattel and partner production companies spawn several TV shows, movies, and comic books. You can check the list below for reissues of retro Masters of the Universe toys.

John W. Amerman, who was hired in 1980 to be the head of Mattel’s international division, became the chairman of the company in the late 80s. Amerman helped in improving the sales and profits of Mattel in 1987 by only focusing on their core brands, which include Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Masters of the Universe. Between 1987 and 1992, the sales of Barbie dolls increased to $1 billion.

It was also in the 1980s when Mattel produced and developed video games under Mattel Electronics, a tech line that was founded in 1977. One of the more known video game consoles produced by Mattel is the Intellivision, which was released in 1979. Along with the game console, Mattel Electronics also published games for it, and some of these games include Auto Racing (1980), Major League Baseball (1980), Space Hawk (1982), and Night Stalker (1982).

While the Intellivision was relatively successful, Mattel was forced to take a $394 million loss in 1983 due to the decreasing interest and sales of the video game console. Unfortunately, Mattel decided to sell the console and its video game assets in 1984 to INTV Corporation, a company that is composed of former Mattel Electronics investors and executives. INTV Corporation would continue selling the Intellivision until 1990.

In 1992, Mattel acquired a gaming company called International Games, which was known for creating popular card games like UNO and Skip-Bo. A year later, Mattel purchased Fisher-Price, Inc., a company that is producing educational toys for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Then, in 1997, Mattel acquired Tyco Toys, Inc., the then-owner of the Matchbox brand. It was also in 1997 when the Hot Wheels brand partnered with renowned NASCAR drivers Jack Baldwin and Kyle Petty. Through the partnership, Hot Wheels was able to design, produce, and sell NASCAR-themed mini cars.

In 2000, Mattel earned a grant to produce Disney Princess dolls, and these include dolls for characters from Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast. In the same year, Mattel also signed a deal with Warner Bros. to produce and sell Harry Potter-branded toys. After the success of the Harry Potter toys, Mattel and Warner Bros. agreed to extend the deal to other franchises owned by the latter, which include Batman, Superman, and Looney Tunes.

In 2010, HIT Entertainment, a British-American entertainment company, granted the license to Mattel to produce toys for Thomas & Friends, a British TV show that features anthropomorphized trains. In 2013, Forbes Magazine declared Mattel as one of the top 100 companies to work for, as they noted that more than 1,000 employees are still working for the company after more than 15 years, which is considered proof that the company treats its employees well.

The Canceled Takeover of Hasbro

On November 10, 2017, it was reported that Hasbro proposed a takeover offer for Mattel. [5] The takeover involves Hasbro absorbing Mattel into their growing business. However, the takeover was rumored to be canceled as Mattel rejected the offers that Hasbro provided. 

Instead of being taken over by Hasbro, Mattel strengthened the reach of its brand by partnering with NetEase, a Chinese video game company, to create apps based on Mattel’s core brands (Barbie, Thomas & Friends, Hot Wheels, etc.). The deal between the two companies was finalized on January 29, 2018. The decision to widen the online and digital reach of Mattel was most likely brought by the popularity of the Barbie YouTube channel, which, by that time, was named one of the Top 50 Most Viewed YouTube Channels in the United States

Net Sales of Mattel from 2006 to 2022

In order for us to see how successful Mattel has been in recent years, we need to look at the company’s net sales from specific years or decades. In the table below, you will see the net sales of Mattel from 2006 to 2022. From the table, it is evident that the net sales of the company are relatively consistent throughout the years, although there has been a decrease in sales between 2017 and 2020. However, by 2021, the net sale improved to average levels. [6]

Worldwide Net Sales of Mattel from 2006 to 2022 (in Million US Dollars)
Year Net Sales
2010 5,856.2
2011 6,266.04
2012 6,420.88
2013 6,484.89
2014 6,023.82
2015 5,702.61
2016 5,453.15
2017 4,881.49
2018 4,514.81
2019 4,504.57
2020 4,588.4
2021 5,457.7
2022 5,434.7

And these are the simplest things you need to know about Mattel as a company and as a producer of some of the most popular toy lines on the market. Because of how iconic Mattel’s toy lines are for kids, teenagers, and adults, it is likely that the company will continue to be successful in the future.


[1] Darcy. (2022, May 9). THE HISTORY OF THE MATTEL TOY COMPANY. My Zeo. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from  https://www.myzeo.com/blog/the-history-of-the-mattel-toy-company/

[2] Latson, J. (2015, March 9). The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins. Time Magazine. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://time.com/3731483/barbie-history/

[3] Nelson, J. (2018, December 24). The Thin Redlines: The Past and Present of Hot Wheels. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://www.motortrend.com/features/hot-wheels-history-toy-cars/

[4] 1000Logos.net. (2023, March 6). MATTEL LOGO. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://1000logos.net/mattel-logo/

[5] Mattioli, D, & Ziobro, P. (2017, November 10). Hasbro Sets Its Sights on Mattel. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/hasbro-makes-takeover-approach-to-mattel-1510351281

[6] Tighe, D. (2023, February 27). Global revenue of toy manufacturer Mattel 2006-2022. Statista. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/198763/net-sales-of-us-toy-manufacturer-mattel-since-2006/