Created in 1986, American Girl dolls portray girls between the ages of 8-11 in a variety of different ethnicities from around the planet. Each doll is accompanied by a book that tells a story from that doll’s unique perspective. Many of the initial stories discussed American history, but today’s dolls have stories that discuss what life is like for them. Originally available only by mail order, today’s dolls can be seen in brand specific stores, in big box retail outlets, and even in motion pictures.
Pleasant Rowland, who created the American Girl Company, is credited with the invention of the line of dolls that have the same name.
Why Were the American Girl Dolls Created?
If you ask Rowland why she created the line of dolls, she’ll give you two reasons. The first is that there was a large gap in the doll market of the 1980’s where girls couldn’t play with dolls that were seen as their counterparts. Dolls were instead marketed towards newborns or in toys that were geared toward parental care for you girls and older girls had Barbie dolls to serve as a target image. Rowland wanted to have a doll to which young girls could relate that could serve as a companion, a playmate character, or serve as a new target image.
The second reason was to provide girls a better education in the area of American history from the view of the average American girl. Rowland wanted to show girls that even though times can change, technology can improve, and fashions might be different, the emotions of the American girl did not change.
How Was the Line of American Girls Launched?
The Pleasant Company launched the first American Girls line with three girls: Kirsten Larson, Samantha Parkington, and Molly McIntire. In the next 12 years, Rowland steered the company toward success by developing new girls and character lines, including historical characters, the Our New Baby line, and the American Girl of Today. Just 12 years after starting the company, Rowland sold the rights to the American Girl dolls to Mattel for $700 million. She remained with Mattel for the next two years, serving as an advisor, before retiring to become a historical developer.
The American Girls line of dolls is not without controversy. The initial story of the dolls includes Rowland discussing how she had discovered a well-worn trunk that had a beautiful porcelain doll that had been well-loved and had many accessories. It was discovered that the doll had been donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society and that the trunk in the image was as fictional as the story used to market it.
What cannot be denied, however, is the impact that this line of dolls has had on American girls over the years. With stories that encourage girls to follow their dreams, learn from history, and be who they want to be, American Girl dolls provide a positive companion for young girls so they don’t need to be a play parent or shoot for a potentially unachievable vision of beauty portrayed in teen dolls. They can have a friend instead and just be themselves.