On Wednesday's episode of CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage," Leno shares the story of Elliot and Ruth Handler, a couple that risked the net worth of their company to become one of the most successful toy manufacturers of all time: Mattel.
Mattel Inc. was originally a picture-frame business founded in 1945 out of the Handlers' garage in Los Angeles. When they began producing toys, their first big hits were a child-size ukulele and cap pistol called the Burp Gun.
In 1955, as G. Wayne Miller explains in his book "Toy Wars," ABC asked Mattel to sponsor Disney's "The Mickey Mouse Club," offering them 15 minutes of commercial time a week for $500,000. That was just about the value of their company at the time.
After some consideration, Elliot and Ruth accepted. Fortunately, the show was a hit, and Mattel increased its sales by 25 percent, shipping over a million Burp Guns within the year.
They used that accumulated revenue to change the world.
In 1959, Ruth invented the Barbie doll, naming it after their daughter Barbara. Ken, Barbie's partner, came out in 1961, and they named him after their son.
Despite Elliot's insistence that "no mother is ever going to buy her daughter a doll with breasts," sales topped $100 million by 1965.