Vidler’s: A Great Way to Get Through January

March 13, 2024
Written by
Don Vidler
Mattel first garage

Don’t care much for January? Welcome to the club. According to a 2023 poll, this month is the nation’s least favorite, with almost a third of Americans surveyed saying it’s the worst. (January’s fellow winter-doldrums month, February, is but a distant second.)  

You might think better of January, though, if you knew what happened 79 years ago this very month in this dingy little California garage:

outside original vidlers location

In January 1945, Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliott Handler, selling picture frames and fashioning dollhouse furniture from scraps in this unassuming building, started a little company called Mattel—now one of the bigger toy manufacturers in the world. (Look closely at that photo. See the letters spelling “Mattel Creations”?)  

Handler’s wife, Ruth, later president of the company, is none other than the mother of Barbie, the iconic doll that inspired a recent blockbuster movie. But the company’s first successful toy was a ukelele called "Uke-A-Doodle." Ruth established the Barbie product line for Mattel in 1959, naming the company's star doll after her daughter, Barbara Handler, and before you could say “Ken? Who’s Ken?” Mattel was taking the toy industry by storm.

In case you haven’t yet figured it out, Mattel’s company name is a mashup of the founders’ names, Harold Matson’s last and Elliott Handler’s first. According to a former Mattel chairman and CEO, the founders tried to incorporate Ruth, too, into the company name. That they failed to do so was ironic given that she was with the company much longer and did much more to help it succeed than did Matson, who left Mattel in failing health in 1947, selling his share of the company to the Handlers.  

Mattel’s footprint now spans 35 countries and territories, and its products are sold in more than 150 countries. If that seems big for a company started in a garage, consider how many other big, iconic companies have been born in a garage, basement, or shed. There’s Hewlett-Packard, founded in a little, red garage with gray doors. There’s Apple, which Steve Jobs founded in his parents’ suburban garage. And there’s Amazon, founded in Jeff Bezos’ garage.

We here at Vidler’s 5 & 10 have a special place in our hearts for Mattel-parent company of East Aurora’s own Fisher-Price, which employs more than 800 people at its plant here.  

In fact, as the largest 5 & 10 store in the world, we have a wide selection of merchandise from many manufacturers, from nostalgic toys to kitchen gadgets. And, of course, we’re the proud home of Sock Monkey and the Yodeling Pickle, too.

So come on in and spend some time with us. Time flies when you’re shopping at Vidler’s. It might not even be January anymore when you leave. Doesn’t that sound good?

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