In 1986, educator, writer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Pleasant Rowland, began designing and producing a range of 18 inch dolls. An avid history lover, Rowland was inspired to create the dolls by a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. She believed that young girls might become interested in history by exposure to dolls associated with historical events and periods. Each doll she designed related to a specific historical time period and was accompanied by books, clothing and other accessories.
Rowland’s company was a runaway success. From dolls, the line expanded to include clothing for both the dolls and their owners, books, dollhouses, furniture…you name it. She set up stores in major cities and held events centered around the dolls. Mattel came along in 1998 and bought the Pleasant Company – now renamed American Girl – for $700 million…yes, you read that right!! Today American Girl sales are second only to Barbie.
I was vaguely aware of the American Girl phenomenon before we moved to the US. One of the American women I met in Antwerp ‘warned’ me about it but I still didn’t really grasp the overwhelming marketing juggernaut that is American Girl. Olive and Edie were introduced to the dolls at the homes of our neighbours’ and through conversations at school. After doing a bit more research I endeavoured to keep them out of the house as long as possible!! But when Edie’s birthday rolled around this past January all she wanted was…you guessed it…an American Girl doll. Richard and I begrudgingly acquiesced. At least we were confident it would get played with – Edie is legendary for the amount of dolls, stuffed animals, figurines, pieces of paper…and all manner of other bits and bobs that get roped into her elaborate games. Olive, on the other hand, has never been a doll or stuffed animal kind of girl…but once she clapped eyes on ‘Isabelle’, carefully cocooned in that giant red box, we knew just what she’d be asking for come April 13th. And so despite my best efforts, we know have two of the blasted dolls – Isabelle and Lillia.
Today the girls and I made the big drive into the mega mall that is Tyson’s Corner, home of the American Girl store. I had promised them a “this is only ever happening once and will never be repeated again” day at the store which included…I’m embarrassed to type this…getting the dolls hair done (!), lunch in the AG bistro and a chance to ooh and aaah over all the, not on the cheap side, merchandise.
After the hairdos and the racing around the store it was time for lunch in the pink, flower bedecked bistro.
Back home the girls played for hours. There was a school set up and cubbys and funny voices and outfit changes and then videos made of all the fun. Best part though was the sound of two sisters playing happily…mmm…perhaps those dolls aren’t too bad after all??