Resource

American Girl

Historical characters dolls for girls.

Addy Walker doll

American Girl Company, Addy Walker doll, 1993. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Nicole Wagner and Wagner Family, 2020.46.1.

Pleasant Company, Addy: An American Girl book

Pleasant Company, Addy: An American Girl book collection, 1993. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Nicole Wagner and Wagner Family, 2020.46.10a-g.

Josefina Montoya doll

American Girl Company, Josefina Montoya doll, 1997. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Nicole Wagner and Wagner Family, 2020.46.2.

American Girl trading cards

Pleasant Company, American Girl doll trading cards, ca. 1995. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Nicole Wagner and Wagner Family, 2020.46.9a-f.

Josefina Montoya American Girl books

Pleasant Company, Josefina Montoya American girl books , 1997. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Nicole Wagner and Wagner Family, 2020.46.11a-c.

Background

Pleasant Rowland, a former teacher, founded the Pleasant Company in 1986 in Wisconsin and launched the first American Girl dolls that same year. The dolls were initially available only by mail-order catalog. The company earned over $1 million in its first year of operation. 

The original line of American Girl dolls featured historical characters. Each doll was accompanied by a series of books, through which girls could learn about the history of American girlhood, a topic often overlooked in history lessons. The American Girls faced challenges specific to the periods in which their stories were set, but also experienced childhood emotions that felt familiar to late 20th-century readers. The first three dolls, Samantha (1904), Kirsten (1854), and Molly (1944), were white. The company introduced its first doll of color, Addy (1864), in 1993. 

The American Girl dolls were also unique in that they depicted children between the ages of 8 and 11. This age representation was a major departure from popular dolls like teenage Barbie. While Barbie’s physical appearance was an unrealistic aspiration for most girls, American Girls were designed to look like the children who played with them.

While the high price of owning a doll (the dolls cost $65 in 1986) put them out of reach for most, many girls connected to the brand by browsing catalogs, checking the books out of the library, and collecting cheaper items such as trading cards.

Mattel purchased the Pleasant Company in 1998. Since then, the American Girl brand has expanded, continuing to release history-inspired dolls and books, as well as other doll lines and products.