“Apocalypse at the Doll Counter” Barbie, Marjie, and the North American Toy Industry, 1959-67
Positioned at the intersection of business, social, and cultural history, this thesis, “Apocalypse at the Doll Counter”: Barbie, Marjie, and the North American Toy Industry, 1959-67, uses a case study of the parallel and intersecting journeys of the American Barbie doll and Canadian Marjie doll to explore Canada’s cultural and economic relationship with the United States primarily in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. The histories of these dolls show how toys were imbued with nationalist and gendered sentiments and values in an era where American cultural and economic power penetrated Canada’s borders; Canadians responded to perceived cultural imperialism with a heightened sense of Canadian nationalism, reflected in wider Canada-US relations in the same period. The thesis further explores the rise of the Barbie doll as it became an iconic piece of plastic that transcended the toy world and was attached with cultural meaning. The cultural meaning and popular image of the Barbie doll was created by the powerful marketing of the doll by Mattel, especially as the company created a wide selection of accessories and companion goods to be purchased alongside the doll. Through Barbie, Mattel revolutionized the toy industry, much to the chagrin of later generations of parents. Finally, this thesis also use the Barbie/Marjie clash to provide a business history of the North American toy industry. Investigating how the Canadian toy industry approached economic competition with the American toy firms like Mattel, it looks at how the toy industry, more broadly, transitioned from a seasonal to a year-round industry and faced increasing competition at home with the development of American branch plants in Canada. Ultimately, this thesis shows how, despite all the efforts of the Canadian toy industry and the Canadian government, any success was short lived.
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