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Toy Expert To Highlight Women Inventors During B-N Visit

Ruth Handler with a barbie
Andrew Harnik
One of Ruth Handler's first Barbie dolls is displayed at the American Enterprise exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History on the National Mall.

You never forget your favorite toy or board game from when you were a kid. But those who invent those toys and games are often forgotten to time. Especially the women.

America’s most influential women toymakers will be featured Tuesday night at the McLean County Museum of History, in a presentation by Christopher Bensch, vice president for collections at The Strong National Museum of Play in New York. His museum is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and many other collections.

“The amount of time we as kids and grownups spend at play, we often are totally unaware of the people who’ve created our favorites,” Bensch said. “And even more so, for the women in the world of toys, they get even less attention in general.”

"We often are totally unaware of the people who've created our favorites."

Bensch’s “9 Wonder Women of Toys” presentation will focus on nine women inventors and entrepreneurs behind products such as Candy Land, Slinky, Barbie, and Jenga.

One of them is Betty James, who coined the named Slinky and developed the business with her husband, Richard.

“She and Richard were the ones who really leveraged that simple thing and turned what might have just been a flash in the pan novelty toy into an enduring classic,” Bensch said.

Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler is another toy icon. She helped conceive Barbie, addressing what she saw as lacking in the world of dolls.

“She wanted a doll that her daughter had already been clamoring for, that represented how she might be when she grew up,” Bensch said. “For whatever else you may think is positive or negative about Barbie, (Handler) definitely took dolls into an adult territory of ... maybe being too much of a consumer. But Barbie has also gone through hundreds of different careers and roles, and Ruth Handler was core to who Barbie started as in 1959 and who she’s evolved into in the decades since.”

Bensch’s free discussion Tuesday is presented in conjunction with the McLean County Museum of History’s temporary exhibit, Pedal Power, featuring the Bruce Callis Pedal Car Collection.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.