Since we’re currently holding an American Girl Doll Giveaway to our newsletter subscribers, we thought we’d share some interesting facts about the origination of the American Girl Doll.
1. They were inspired by a visit to Williamsburg
In 1984, textbook author, TV reporter, and teacher Pleasant Rowland accompanied her husband on a business trip to Williamsburg, Va. “I loved the costumes, the homes, the accessories of everyday life—all of it completely engaged me,” Rowland told CNN Money in 2002. “I remember sitting on a bench in the shade, reflecting on what a poor job schools do of teaching history, and how sad it was that more kids couldn’t visit this fabulous classroom of living history. Was there some way I could bring history alive for them, the way Williamsburg had for me?”
2. Pleasant Rowland funded the company herself
Rowland had $1.2 million of textbook royalties saved, so rather than asking for money from investors, she funded what would become the Pleasant Company herself. “American Girl seemed like a million dollar idea,” she told CNN Money. “I put $200,000 aside in case all failed and plunged in.” The goal: Have the dolls ready by Christmas 1986.
3. Rowland had no idea how to make the dolls or their historically accurate accessories
Rowland had experience writing books, but she was at a loss for where to begin with the dolls—she didn’t even have a model to work with, so she sent a friend to Chicago to look for one. “By the end of the second day, she found one at Marshall Field’s, down in the storeroom, covered with dust,” Rowland said. “Nobody had paid any attention to this doll because it had crossed eyes! The sales clerk had no idea where it had come from, but when we undressed the doll, sewn inside the underpants was a label that said ‘Gotz Puppenfabrik, Rodental, West Germany.’” Rowland made some calls, and not long after, found herself in Germany, “picking out fabrics and ribbons and clothes for the American Girl dolls.”
The 18-inch dolls would be manufactured in Germany, but the books would be made in the company’s Madison, Wisc. offices and the doll’s accessories would be made in China. (These days, both the dolls and their accessories are made in China, and assembled in and shipped from Wisconsin.)