American Girl E-News
In this issue, see how American Girl has grown and changed over our 25 years of helping girls stand tall, reach high, and dream big.
One day in the early 1980s, a former elementary-school teacher and textbook writer visited Colonial Williamsburg, a living history site where costumed interpreters bring America's colonial days to life. How wonderful it would be, she thought, to bring this rich experience down to a child's level so that girls could really imagine what growing up in different times and places was like. With their imaginations engaged, this former teacher knew, girls would come to understand their history and their country in a way no textbook could teach.
A few months later on a shopping trip to buy gifts for her young nieces, she was dismayed when she saw the toys that were being marketed to girls. Many of them encouraged girls to grow up too quickly or focused on trendiness instead of encouraging deeper values like kindness, loyalty, and compassion. She wanted to give her nieces toys that were meaningful and educational and promoted positive values—toys that the girls would treasure throughout their childhood. But where could she find such toys?
An idea began to take shape: to pair historical fiction with dolls, outfits, and accessories that would bring the stories to life. She approached several businesspeople with her idea, but they didn't see how her idea was different from the many dolls already for sale. Soon she realized that if she wanted to make her vision a reality, she would have to do it herself. She found some authors who shared her vision, hired a small staff, and started her own company. Her name was Pleasant Rowland.
Ms. Rowland decided to launch her company with a direct-mail catalogue. Within its pages, she could describe her product line and help families understand why it was so special and unique. She called her catalogue Pleasant Company for American Girls.
The first catalogue, mailed in the fall of 1986, offered three dolls—Kirsten® (1854), Samantha® (1904), and Molly® (1944), plus their first three books and a range of clothing and accessories. The families who received the catalogue loved it, and word quickly spread. New books and outfits were added, and in 1991, Felicity® made her debut with a tea party in Williamsburg that drew 11,000 girls and parents! A year later, American Girl® magazine was launched. Soon Addy®, a girl growing up during the Civil War, and Josefina®, from 1820s New Mexico, brought diversity and new historical eras to The American Girls Collection®.
As the dolls and books grew in popularity, fans requested characters to express the interests, activities, and concerns of present-day girls. So My American Girl® dolls (originally called American Girl of Today®) and Girl of the Year® joined the product line, along with contemporary advice and activity books.
But Ms. Rowland didn't stop there. Another idea stirred inside of her: she had never forgotten the magical childhood experience of visiting the big city with her mother—eating in an elegant restaurant, shopping in a fancy department store—and she wanted to create the same kind of treasured memories for her customers. So in November 1998, American Girl Place opened its doors in Chicago. Once again, Ms. Rowland had broken with convention and created a new kind of retail experience—the destination store that combines shopping with dining, activities, and special events.
Today, American Girl operates 10 retail stores and counting, which together have welcomed nearly 40 million visitors. The company, owned by Mattel since 1998, has also sold more than 20 million dolls and 135 million books, many of which have won prestigious awards. The historical characters have become beloved household names and have starred in TV movies and a feature film. American Girl magazine ranks among the top ten children's magazines in the country, and americangirl.com offers shopping, games, and a vast online world just for girls and their dolls, and receives 68 million visits per year.
While Pleasant Rowland achieved financial success with the company she founded, the real testament to her success comes from her customers. One writes, "My older sister and I grew up playing with these dolls, reading their stories, and visiting the historical sites that sponsored them. They cultivated for us a love of history and an understanding of the strength that we had in all of us." A teacher thanks us for "creating a product that sparked a passion for history in my childhood and helps me to inspire that same passion in the next generation." And a girl writes simply, "Thank you for making being a girl awesome!"