Everything You Need to Know about American Girl Dolls

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girl with doll in christmas pjs
Happy girl with doll in bed. Christmas time

If you are a girl and you grew up in the 90’s, then chances are you had or wished you had, an American Girl Doll. Back in the early 90’s, you had one of the OG American Girl Dolls. If you were really an American Girl doll fan, you had all the accompanying books and accessories. 

Nowadays, the brand has expanded, along with the clientele it serves. If you somehow missed this phenomenon, don’t worry. Join your friends at Twin Cities Kids Club, who are here to teach you all about this pivotal piece of American toy history. 

Cute smiling little girl playing with her toy carriage and doll outdoors

Real Historical Inspiration

The founder of the American Girl Doll Company, Pleasant Rowland, took her inspiration for her dolls from her love of Colonial Williamsburg. She considered the place a classroom of living history and had a high affinity for it when she was a child.

Rowland loved history and longed for a way to instill that love into children around the world. She hoped to find a way to spark an interest in the historical facts of our great country. She found inspiration in an unlikely place.

While Christmas shopping for her nieces, Rowland was dismayed to discover the limited amount of options for dolls. She wanted a toy that could be aspirational for your girls and drive them to learn, grow, and be all they can be. 

What she saw was a gap in the market. She had the idea to create characters and build stories around them, borrowing from history to round out the narrative. Each character would have her own doll that parents could buy from their girls. 

Historical accuracy was essential to Rowland. She wanted to bring her childhood experiences at Colonial Williamsburg to every little girl who owned an American Girl Doll. 

In the Beginning

The first few years saw the introduction of the original three American Girls.

  1. Molly McIntire- A spunky and brainy girl who lived during World War II
  2. Samantha Parkington- A sophisticated girl who lived just after the turn of the 20th century
  3. Kirsten Larson- A sweet and strong girl who lived in the mid-19th century

Pleasant Rowland started the company herself with money she had earned and saved. Rowland wanted to take a different approach to the sale of her dolls. In the early days, customers could only buy American Girl Dolls directly through the mail.

Pretty girl sitting on the floor and playing with her doll. Happy childhood concept

Early Opposition 

American Girl Dolls are the product of a company that almost wasn’t. Initial focus groups were less than receptive to Rowland’s original idea. It wasn’t until presented with samples of the dolls and books that the potential customers were sold on the concept. 

Still, many were skeptical that young girls would be interested in a history lesson attached to their playtime. All Rowland could do next was go forward and hope. The original catalog mail-out consisted of 500,000 copies.

Success

Pleasant Rowland’s gamble proved a successful one. The company made over $2 million in its first year, $7.6 million in its second, and in 1989, they made 30 million dollars. It was hard to tell which was more of a success, the dolls or the books.

The Stories That Made the Girls

Each original doll came with a series of 6 books. The books followed the same outline and shared the six titles. The only thing that changed was the name of the girl. 

The six books were-

  • Meet (Girl): An American Girl
  • (Girl) Learns a Lesson: A School Story
  • (Girl’s) Surprise: A Christmas Story
  • Happy Birthday, (Girl)!: A Springtime Story
  • (Girl) Saves the Day: A Summer Story
  • Changes for (Girl): A Winter Story

The Original American Girl Dolls could be purchased with accessories from each of these stories. Not just accessories, though, you could buy whole outfits and even furniture sets. 

The books were based on a mix of actual historical data and the real experiences of the authors. This aspect, along with many others mad American Girl Dolls, highly sought after collector’s items. 

Pretty little girl playing with doll

The Original Line

Along with Molly, Samantha, and Kirsten, there are three other original American Girls. 

  • Felicity Merriman- A fiercely independent girl who lived during the Revolutionary War
  • Addy Walker- A thoughtful and optimistic girl who lived through and escaped slavery
  • Josefina Montoya- A caring girl who lived in New Mexico in the early 1800s

After the original girls, a contemporary line of dolls was released. This line produced 77 different dolls. You can purchase clothes, accessories, and furniture to match your own style. 

Next came the ability to customize your doll with features that matched your own. This line was marketed for girls who want dolls who look just like them. 

In 2003, the company introduced a line of baby dolls called Bitty Baby dolls. The company realized that the best way to expand profits was to diversify their offerings, and so they did. 

The Girl of the Year

Starting in 2001, the company released one featured girl every year. After the girl’s year was over, the girl of the year is permanently archived. This doll is strategically debuted around the holiday season to drive sales. 

two girls, one drawing and one playing with doll

Company Changeover

In 1998, Pleasant Rowland sold her company to Mattel for the price of $700 million. After the changeover, American Girl Doll enthusiasts say a change in design can be detected. The Pleasant Company dolls, also called pre-Mattel or PM dolls, had softer vinyl pieces, plusher bodies, thicker limbs, fuller faces, and smaller eyes. 

The changes go all the way down to the eyelashes. PM dolls had lashes of soft brown while the Mattel dolls had thick, black lashes. One common criticism is that the dolls had been Barbie-fied.  

For the average consumer, though, the differences are hardly noticeable. While some purists will tell you that the only real American Girl doll is a PM doll, Mattel dolls are worthy toys for any young girl. 

If you had an American Girl doll as a child, don’t you think it’s time your daughter experienced that same joy. If you are planning to pick one up, check out these shopping tips.

If you haven’t joined Twin Cities Kids Club yet, what are you waiting for? Join today to take advantage of all our exclusive deals and discounts. 

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