One day a few months back, I infodumped about the entire history of American Girl to one of my friends in Rebelle’s fanbase that isn’t really familiar with American Girl. A week ago, a really nice fan named River asked me to do the same thing to them, so I did it again- and realized it would be a pretty good blog post! So here’s the entire history of American Girl as told from my last brain cells at 9 pm in a Nashville hotel room:
We begin our journey in 1984, when children's textbook author Pleasant Rowland is accompanying her husband on a business trip to Colonial Williamsburg.
She liked how the exhibits brought the history of the American Revolution to life, and was wondering if there was a way to bring historical events life to children, especially girls, who were underrepresented in history books.
Later that year, she was shopping for dolls for her nieces for Christmas. There were only Cabbage Patches and Barbies, and she was disappointed. but then she thought of her Colonial Williamsburg experience again and decided to make a line of historically accurate dolls for girls 7-12.
She called up her friend Valerie Tripp, a children's book author, and started work on "Pleasantries", later changed to "Pleasant Company". Three dolls were developed to be the first of the new line: Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant in 1854, Samantha, a wealthy orphan in 1904, and Molly, who's dad goes overseas during World War II.
All of these dolls had the same face mold, one picked out from Gotz, a West German company that Pleasant Rowland found while searching for doll manufacturers. The 3 dolls varied in hair color and eye color, but they also had similar wigs.
Also: Samantha became an orphan because Pleasant Rowland's niece told her that she liked reading about orphans. An 8 year old killed Samantha's parents.
The dolls and their first 3 books (Meet *Name*, *Name* Learns a Lesson and *Name's* Surprise) became available via mail order in time for the holidays in 1986, and they proved to be a big hit, making 1 million dollars in just one winter.
In 1987, a birthday book and collection was released for the dolls, and in 1988, the last 2 books, *Name* Saves the Day and Changes for *Name* became available. The next year, matching outfits for children to match their dolls became available.
Up to this point, the Pleasant Company dolls came with white bodies. This changed with the release of the first new doll in the line, Felicity from the Revolutionary War, in 1991, who's fashions required lower cuts. The bodies were then changed to flesh-tone.
In 1990, a baby doll collection for younger girls called Our New Baby was released as well. This later became Bitty Baby in 1995.
In 1993, the first new face mold for a doll was introduced with Addy Walker, American Girl's first doll of color, an African-American from the Civil War era. Another time period for this doll considered at first was the 1920s, which we finally got with Claudie!
In 1995, the first 18 inch modern dolls were released, then called American Girl of Today. The line was renamed several times, first to simply "American Girl Today" around 2000, then to "Just Like You" in 2006, then to "My American Girl" in 2010, then finally to "Truly Me" in 2015.
20 dolls were released, also introducing the medium skin tone and the #4 Mold, a mold with Asian features that was only used on Just Like You 4 and then retired, into the AG line.
In 1997, Josefina Montoya, the first Latina doll (from Mexico), was released. She also came with a new face mold, and a hair color sampled from when a Latino advisor on her collection personally cut his own hair to make sure AG got the color right.
In 1998, American Girl finally was available in more ways than just the catalogs. For one, American Girl's website started taking orders around this time, and the first American Girl Place in Chicago, Illinois opened.
But in 1998, something else major changed. For 700 million dollars, toy giant Mattel, the company behind Barbie and other iconic brands, bought Pleasant Company and American Girl from Pleasant Rowland.
In 2000, Mattel released their first doll since the acquisition, Kit Kittredge from the Great Depression in 1932. She was the first doll to have freckles, and was originally supposed to have long curly hair before American Girl decided on a bob.
In 2001, American Girl responded to requests from fans wanting to read about modern characters and started introducing limited edition modern character dolls. The first, Lindsey Bergman, was American Girl's first Jewish doll and had a small collection consisting of only a laptop and a scooter.
In 2002, American Girl released the last doll Pleasant Rowland had any involvement with, Native American Kaya from 1764. American Girl worked with the Nez Perce tribe for 5 years to ensure the accuracy of Kaya's portrayal, and even made a new mold for Kaya that doesn't show her teeth since it is considered rude to do so in Nez Perce culture.
2003 saw the release of another limited edition character, surfer girl Kailey. Also in 2003, American Girl opened a second store and arguably their most iconic store- the large American Girl Place in New York City.
In 2004, American Girl officially changed it's name to, well, American Girl. At this point, AG had a new CEO, Ellen Brothers, who joined in 2000, but she was about to make her boldest step for American Girl. Making Nellie, a best friend doll for Samantha, and releasing a Samantha movie.
The Samantha movie premiered in 2004 on the WB channel (now the CW channel), and AnnaSophia Robb played Samantha. It was such a big hit that American Girl did it again the next year with Felicity, releasing her best friend Elizabeth and making a movie for her, where Felicity was played by future Divergent star Shailene Woodley.
2005's limited edition character was their most successful yet, despite controversy with Christian groups boycotting American Girl since they collaborated with a group supportive of same-sex marriage and residents of Chicago being mad at a passage regarding a certain location being "unsafe". This was Marisol Luna, a Mexican-American dancer who had a decent collection featuring many dance outfits. Inevitably, American Girl named 2006's Jess McConnell, a biracial girl who goes on a journey in Belize, the "Girl of the Year", giving birth to a tradition that still lives on today.
2006 also brought a new movie, this time for Molly, where she was played by Canadian newcomer Maya Ritter. However, since Molly had 2 best friends in her books, Linda and Susan, American Girl released her British friend Emily, who's role in the movie was greatly expanded from the books. Due to the WB going off the air earlier in 2006, Molly's movie aired on Disney Channel.
The third American Girl store in Los Angeles, California also opened that year.
2007's Girl of the Year, Nicki Fleming, was the first Girl of the Year to be released on January 1, and I was the only one who knew that when I visited AG's headquarters back in 2017.
She was a girl from Colorado who had to train a service dog... hey, does that sound familiar? Just a little bit?
Also in 2007, American Girl released their first new historical doll since they started making movies, Julie Albright from the 1970s. She also came with a best friend, Ivy, who was the first fully Asian character doll released by American Girl.
The last major development in 2007 was the opening of smaller American Girl stores across the country. The first 2 to open that year were Atlanta, which closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, and Dallas, which is still open.
In 2008, American Girl released their first theatrical movie for Kit. Kit was played by Academy Award nominated Abigail Breslin, and the hope was that it would be a success. Unfortunately, a Bratz movie released the year before that was absolutely horrible, so no one wanted to see the American Girl movie, and it tanked at the box office. And we haven't had a AG movie release in theaters since then.
At least Kit got a Best Friend doll, Ruthie...
The Girl of the Year that year, figure skater Mia, was the first GOTY doll to have a furniture item as the most expensive item in the collection, or a Big Ticket Item. In her case, it was a bedroom. Mia also had a unique freckle pattern that has never been used again.
Also, two American Girl stores opened that year! Boston and Minneapolis... which both closed on the same day in 2019!
In 2009, American Girl gave the movie treatment to their Girl of the Year, Chrissa, a swimmer dealing with bullying. Frequent guest star on children's TV Sammi Hannaraty played Chrissa, but the breakout would have to be Kaitlyn Dever as her friend Gwen, who went on to star in the movie Booksmart. Gwen, who was homeless, was released as a doll too, as well as Sonali, an Indian girl who started as a bully to Chrissa but later became a friend.
Sonali came with a new face mold, and is arguably the rarest character doll. I've once seen Sonali dolls go for $700.
Rebecca Rubin from 1914, American Girl's first Jewish historical character, was also released that year. She unfortunately shared a name with someone on the FBI's terrorist list, which gave the release extra publicity. American Girl was working on Rebecca since 2004, but they waited for the movie frenzy to pass before releasing her. Also in 2009, 20 new Truly Me dolls were released, #33-#52.
In 2010, environmentalist Lanie was the Girl of the Year. Her camper, priced at $295, was the most expensive Girl of the Year set at the time.
When Just Like You was renamed My American Girl that year, AG also launched a virtual world, Innerstar U. Children could put codes they got from buying their doll into the website and get access to the online virtual game. The game shut down in 2015 after the line was renamed again.
2011 marked American Girl's 25th anniversary, and to celebrate, American Girl had a CRUISE. A literal CRUISE. And it sold out within 3 DAYS. As a thanks for attending, the name of the Girl of the Year for 2012 was revealed to the cruisegoers, and they also got her when she released.
The Girl of the Year for that year is still one of the most popular to this day- Kanani Akina, who lives in Hawaii and is part Hawaiian, Asian and European.
Also in 2011, 2 historical dolls from the same time period and interweaving stories were released- African-American Cecile Rey and French Marie-Grace Gardner, from 1853 New Orleans. American Girl also released exclusive mini dolls of each historical character for the anniversary, and Marie-Grace debuted a new face mold.
In 2012, gymnast McKenna Brooks was released, and she was the fastest Girl of the Year to sell out, beating Kanani's record by 2 days. McKenna got a movie that aired on NBC, where she was played by future Nickelodeon star Jade Pettyjohn.
Caroline Abbott, a historical character from 1812, was also released. She had exclusive seafoam colored eyes that haven't been used on any doll since.
More American Girl stores opened around this time period, including Washington DC, Denver (closed), Kansas City (closed), Seattle (closed), Houston, Miami (closing in September), and St. Louis (closed). Washington DC and Houston are lucky.
In 2013, art-loving Saige was the Girl of the Year. She had exclusive turquoise-colored eyes, pierced ears automatically, and had a hot air balloon in her collection- the tallest American Girl item of all time. She also had a movie, where she was played by newcomer Sidney Fullmer (who was scouted at an American Girl store), but when it aired on NBC, the last minute was interrupted by the verdict of a murder trial, which upset many parents.
Stores in Columbus and San Francisco opened that year, and that year, Molly was discontinued. I forgot to tell you when all the other ones were, but Samantha was gone by 2009, Kirsten by 2010 and Felicity by 2011. With Molly's retirement, none of the original 3 dolls were available.
With the release of 2014's Girl of the Year, dancer Isabelle Palmer, American Girl started a new tradition of revealing the Girl of the Year on New Year's Eve on Good Morning America.
Isabelle came with removable pink highlights, and her movie had a partnership with McDonalds where Isabelle toys were in Happy Meals.
After the incident of the last year, Isabelle's movie, where she was played by Canadian Erin Pitt, released on DVD first and then on Disney Channel.
But if you think that was wild, the rest of the year was even more wild for American Girl. They announced they were revamping their entire historical line, calling it BeForever, and overhauling most character's meet outfits. They were bringing back Samantha- but at the cost of Ivy, Ruthie, Cecile and Marie-Grace.
The fanbase was mad, especially at the retiring of the only Asian character doll and one of the two African American character dolls. But they did it anyway, and reception was mixed. They also changed the six book format to two longer volumes...
Two stores were opened in 2014: Orlando and my local store and personal heaven, Charlotte.
In 2015, the Girl of the Year, baker Grace, had a $500 French bakery in her collection, breaking the record for most expensive AG item by far. She also was the second GOTY doll to have three books (Isabelle was first), and her movie has resurfaced in recent years due to one certain Grammy winner and pop princess playing Grace... Olivia Rodrigo.
2015 also brought the first new historical since the BeForever rebranding, Maryellen Larkin from the 1950s. To celebrate her release, American Girl made crowdsourced short films for her and Julie.
In 2016, the Girl of the Year was Lea, a photographer who travels to Brazil. Her movie, where she was played by We Bought A Zoo star Maggie Elizabeth Jones, was the last Girl of the Year movie for a while. Her app game, which they'd made for every GOTY since Kanani but only Lea's is worth a mention, is unironically the hardest game I've played in my life.
By then, the Nashville store and the Scottsdale Arizona store (now closed) were open, but American Girl was getting ready to released their third African American character, Melody Ellison from the Civil Rights Movement era.
But CBS News asked them a tough question: why aren't there any African American Girls of the Year?
They were developing a Taylor Swift clone, Tenney Grant, to be the 2017 Girl of the Year. She'd even come with a boy doll, Logan Everett, American Girl's first boy. But American Girl couldn't afford bad publicity. So they retired an African-American Truly Me doll, gave her a name (Gabriela) and a story (dancer with a stutter), and then put her out just 10 short months later.
And then a month later, Tenney released and stole all of her thunder.
And then two months later, a Truly Me 30 with a birthmark and a switched part, Korean-American Z Yang, was released, to make it look like they were planning a separate contemporary line all along.
And then three months later, Nanea Mitchell released, from 1941 Hawaii, with a new mold.
And I didn't even mention that Felicity rereleased during this mess. Or that the WellieWishers released in 2016.
And I forgot the permapanties!
They were going to sew on underwear on the doll's torsos, but fan backlash (calling them "permapanties") caused them to can the project.
And Truly Me dolls were in select Toys R Us stores! 2017 AG was chaotic...
The chaos calmed in 2018, when all the Toys R Uses closed, and when Luciana Vega, a Chilean-American girl interested in space, was the Girl of the Year- and the only character released that year.
But Gabriela was still there. They didn't retire the GOTYs after one year anymore. Nowadays, it's roughly two to two and a half years. But Luciana was such a big hit, she only retired last year after a three and a half year run.
Also, they had Legos at this time. Well, Mega Bloks. BUT STILL LEGOS!
And they opened an outlet store in Hershey that closed in 2021!
AND THEY HAD A LIVE TOURING MUSICAL THAT STARTED IN LATE 2018 AND ENDED IN MID 2019!
In 2019, the historical dolls were restored to their original name, and new books were released with abridged text and new illustrations. Less story, but illustrations were back after a 5 year abscence (thanks BeForever) so yay?
The Girl of the Year that year was Blaire, who liked to cook, and her problem was that she had a dairy allergy. And that she was planning a wedding at the age of 9!
2020 was the pandemic, but before the pandemic, Joss Kendrick released as the Girl of the Year. She had a new face mold, a hearing aid, and liked to cheer and surf. She also had a $650 surf bus- the most expensive AG set of all time.
After the pandemic, Courtney Moore from the 1980s released, but was released online 10 days early to minimize store crowds.
Kira Bailey was the Girl of the Year for 2021, and she had a normal in-store release. Her story revolved around visiting Australia to see her aunts' wildlife sanctuary- yes, that's aunts plural. The aunts were lesbians, and homophobes freaked out, but Kira still was a success.
2021 also marked AG's 35th anniversary, and to celebrate, all 6 original Historical dolls were released in their original meet outfits and with their original accessories. These sold like hotcakes to the nostalgic millennials who grew up with AG, and they were gone before the 2021 holiday season.
In 2021, three dolls were released as part of a new contemporary line, World By Us. These dolls designed to bring greater diversity to AG included African-American fashionista Makena Williams, who had a new face mold, biracial environmentalist Evette Peeters, and Latina soccer player Maritza Ochoa.
In 2022, American Girl released Chinese-American skier Corinne Tan as their Girl of the Year. Corinne also has ice-skater Gwynn, her little sister, in her collection, a first for American Girl. Corinne is also getting a movie after a six year hiatus from Girl of the Year movies, where she is going to be played by Miya Cech, and Gwynn is going to be played by Miya's actual sister Kai
Recently, AG rereleased Molly and started doing podcasts about their dolls
And American Girl just released Claudie Wells, a historical character from 1920s Harlem. And I am SUPER EXCITED!
And that’s it! It only took me an hour to recap the entire history of American Girl to River, and it was a lot of fun! They enjoyed it, so I hope you enjoyed it too!