Friday, March 9, 2012

This Day in History: Mar 9, 1959: Barbie makes her debut

On this day in 1959, the first Barbie doll goes on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City.

Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.

Barbie's appearance was modeled on a doll named Lilli, based on a German comic strip character. Originally marketed as a racy gag gift to adult men in tobacco shops, the Lilli doll later became extremely popular with children. Mattel bought the rights to Lilli and made its own version, which Handler named after her daughter, Barbara. With its sponsorship of the "Mickey Mouse Club" TV program in 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials to children. They used this medium to promote their new toy, and by 1961, the enormous consumer demand for the doll led Mattel to release a boyfriend for Barbie. Handler named him Ken, after her son. Barbie's best friend, Midge, came out in 1963; her little sister, Skipper, debuted the following year.  

Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales--and a lot of controversy. On the positive side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even U.S. presidential candidate. Others thought Barbie's never-ending supply of designer outfits, cars and "Dream Houses" encouraged kids to be materialistic. It was Barbie's appearance that caused the most controversy, however. Her tiny waist and enormous breasts--it was estimated that if she were a real woman, her measurements would be 36-18-38--led many to claim that Barbie provided little girls with an unrealistic and harmful example and fostered negative body image.

Despite the criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar, topping 1 billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon.

In South Africa: Slachter's Nek rebels are hanged

In the Valley of the Baviaans River, a Boer named Frederik Bezuidenhout, lived in isolation. He was a pioneer and lived on the farthest and roughest border, with the trials of a pioneer. He was without fear, self-assured and had very little regard for the government.

When one of his coloured servants accused him of abuse, and Bezuidenhout was told to appear in front of the court in Graaff-Reinet. He refused to go to court, and received several warnings to appear. Eventually, on 16 October 1815, a section of coloured soldiers (Pandoere), under command of a white lieutenant, were sent to arrest him. Bezuidenhout hid in a cave, and was fatally wounded during the shoot-out that ensued.

The use of Hottentot soldiers to arrest a white man, in a time of war with the Xhosa, didn’t go down particularly well. The whole issue could have been avoided though, if Frederik’s brother, Johannes, had not vowed revenge at his brother’s grave, and convinced a number of other people in the area to rebel.

The group did not have much success, as most of the Boers on the border weren’t willing to join them. Only sixty men picked up arms. They did not have a strong leader and therefore were very indecisive.
The group tried to get help from the Xhosa chief, Gaika, but this did not succeed, as Gaika did not want to risk a stab in the dark against the government. The government was aware of this situation and immediately took steps to stop the uprising. On 18 November 1815, landrost Cuyler met the rebels with a mixed armed force. Under leadership of Commandant Nel, the rebels were convinced to lay down arms without bloodshed. Some of them surrendered, while others fled to their farms. Some of the farmers fled with the families to Xhosa territory (Johannes Bezuidenhout, his brother-in-law Faber, as well as two Botma’s).

The government troops caught up with them and Bezuidenhout was killed in a skirmish. This ended the uprising, but not it’s tragic after-effects. The prisoners were taken to Uitenhage and appeared before a special hearing of the High Court comprising Judges Willem Hiddingh and Pieter Diemel. There were 47 accused, of which 39 were found guilty and sentenced.

Governor Somerset’s actions did not help the issue. The following prisoners received the death sentence:
Hendrik Prinsloo, Cornelis Faber, Stephanus Botma, Abraham Botha, Theunis de Klerk and Willem Krugel.

The rest of the prisoners were instructed to watch the execution and were banned from the district, went to prison, or received a fine. Willem Krugel was an elderly gentleman and had served in the Xhosa wars. As such he was granted lenience. The other 5 were set to hang on 9 March 1816.

The hangman had to come up from Uitenhage, and arrived with only one suitable rope. When he arrived at the scene, he discovered he had to hang 5 people and so they scrimped and scraped together 4 other ropes. When the hangman tried to execute the 5 men, the four borrowed ropes broke. The men staggered around, but the landrost said that it was not in his power to pardon the men, and the sentence was followed through.

The execution was done in public, and this shows the reactionary view of the British authorities, a reaction against the vandals of the French Revolution.,40.html

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