By Paul Niemann

Special to the Sun Journal

Today we learn about two success stories and the real-life women behind them. One was born to a very successful female CEO at a time when there weren’t many women executives in corporate America, while the other was supposedly born to a first lady.

One has its roots in the proverbial “inventor’s garage,” while the other was supposedly born in the White House. I’m talking, both figuratively and literally, about the Barbie Doll and the Baby Ruth candy bar.

One woman was one of the first female CEOs in our country’s history (Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel), while the other was supposedly the first child born to a president’s family (President Grover Cleveland) in the White House. The first story is based on indisputable truth, while the second one is either truth or urban legend, depending on who you want to believe.


Prior to the three-dimensional Barbie Doll, most dolls were two-dimensional and made of cardboard. They came with paper dresses with little tabs that bent over the edges of the doll, as well as hats with slits to slide over their heads. Like her cardboard predecessor, the Barbie Dolls were also patterned after full-grown women. Ruth Handler wanted to create a doll that inspired girls to think about what they wanted to become when they got older.

She named the Barbie Doll after her daughter, Barbara. She also created the Mattel name in 1943 when she combined the names of the company’s co-founders – her husband, Elliot Handler, and Harold Mattson. Barbie has accompanied millions of girls through their childhood years. Her boyfriend Ken was named after real-life Barbie’s real-life brother. More than a billion Barbie Dolls have been sold since Barbie arrived on the scene at the annual Toy Fair in New York City in 1959. Oddly enough, when Handler approached the all-male group of ad executives at Mattel, the group rejected her Barbie Doll idea because they thought the doll was too expensive and didn’t have enough potential.

The Barbie Doll is the toy industry’s most successful product line of all time, a line that consists of more than 600 different Barbies. A Barbie was even included in the official “America’s Time Capsule” buried at the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. The Handlers left the company in the mid-1970s.


The Baby Ruth candy bar made its debut in 1921, a product of the Curtiss Candy Co. The company claims that the bar was named after President Grover Cleveland’s baby daughter, who was born in 1892.

This is where it gets interesting, and where the urban legend comes into play.

The Curtiss Candy Co. claims that the name and style of lettering was patterned after a medallion at an Chicago expo in 1893 that pictured the president, along with his wife and daughter.

Curtiss’ main office was in Chicago and its official explanation of the bar’s name was: “Our candy bar made its initial appearance in 1921, some years before Babe Ruth … became famous. The similarity of names, therefore, is purely coincidental.” The company maintained that Ruth Cleveland visited the Curtiss Candy Company when the company was just getting started. Since Ruth Cleveland had died at the age of 12 in 1904 and the company wasn’t founded until 1916 (the candy bar made its debut in 1921), I’m going to go out on a limb and say that their claim wasn’t totally accurate. Then again, both the company and the presidential medallion mentioned earlier were from Chicago. Plus, the candy bar was named “Baby Ruth” rather than “Babe Ruth.”

By 1921, Babe Ruth had become a famous Yankees outfielder, while Grover Cleveland had been out of office for more than 25 years. This makes it hard to believe that the candy bar was named after Ruth Cleveland.

So are we really supposed to believe that the company named the candy bar after the former president’s daughter rather than a rising star like Babe Ruth?

It’s hard to say for sure. Just as there’s no consensus over the 100-year old debate as to who invented the game of baseball – Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday – there’s no consensus as to who the famous candy bar was named after.

At least there’s no doubt who Barbie was named after.

© 2009 Paul Niemann. This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by author Paul Niemann. For more information,

Activity guide for students Search the Sun Journal and other sources to find the origins of at least three characters. They may be fictional or real. Then write each one down in your notebook along with a paragraph describing each character.

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