American Girl Dolls: A Brief History

Filed under: Toys, Kids' Games, Activities: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Activities: Big Kids, New In Pop Culture

When Pleasant T. Rowland was Christmas shopping for dolls for her nieces in 1983, the educator was disappointed in the choices for eight-to 12-year-old girls. This experience, along with a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, inspired Rowland to create the American Girl line of historical dolls and books.

Samantha Parkington, an orphan from the Edwardian Era who lives with her grandmother, Pioneer-Era Kirsten Larson and Molly McIntire, who was a young girl in World War Two, debuted in 1986. Along with period outfits and accessories, a six-book series could be purchased with each doll. These books tell the dolls' stories from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl living in that historical period. Both the dolls and books became very popular.

In 1991, Felicity Merriman from the Revolutionary War period was introduced. Later in the 1990's, Addy Walker, a slave from the Civil War Era, and Josefina Montoya, who reflects the history of New Mexico under Mexican Rule, joined the fold. In 1998, Rowland sold her company to Mattel for $700 million. The American Girl books have inspired four movies, including Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which opened in theaters in 2008 and was based on a doll who lived during the Great Depression.

As the company expanded, it branched into other product lines, such as a magazine and different types of doll lines, like the Bitty Baby collection. The first American Girl store opened in Chicago in 1998, and there are now stores across the country. American Girl dolls continue to be cherished toys as well as important history teachers.

Dive into the American Girl world at its official website and learn more about the brand's history at AG Playthings.

Check out other toys and games ParentDish editors love and read about the histories of other famous dolls like Barbie and Raggedy Ann.

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