Inducted Year: 2021
Following a visit to historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and a Christmas shopping trip for her nieces, educator and newscaster Pleasant Rowland developed and launched a line of 18-inch dolls representing an era of America’s past. Each doll was paired with rich historical narratives and accurate reproductions of clothing and accessories. Rowland decided to sell the dolls—Samantha, Kirsten, and Molly—by direct mail. Between September and December of 1986, American Girl dolls sold $1.7 million worth of product.
Rowland’s formula for combining doll play with rich history lessons worked, in her words, like “chocolate cake with vitamins.” In an era when some education experts claimed that the curriculum of many schools paid too little attention to historical subjects, American Girl may well have filled a void. The success of the dolls led to ancillary products such as a monthly magazine, movies, games, puzzles, online books and quizzes, and several retail stores where dolls and accessories are sold in an environment that resembles a birthday party as much as it does a shopping excursion. American Girl now offers a range of dolls with a variety of skin tones, face molds, eye colors, hair styles and textures. When paired with intelligent stories based on history or with individualized representations of girls growing-up in America, the dolls promote diversity in the toy industry.