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Toys That Grow up With Us: American Girl Dolls for Adults

Many people are familiar with American Girl dolls. The first widespread 18” play line was released in 1986 with the dolls Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. Older adults often rediscover their old dolls and may wonder what American Girl dolls are up to now or if they still exist? Whether out of nostalgia or looking into the brand for a child in your life, people who had American Girl dolls as a child may be shocked at the changes that have occurred since then.

Here are several things that an adult looking back into American Girl post-2000 may have missed during their time away.

Mattel Now Owns American Girl

Samantha American Girl Holiday girls in a sleigh
Samantha: An American Girl Holiday stars Kelsey Lewis as Nelly and AnnaSophia Robb as Samantha

In 1998, Pleasant Rowland (the founder of Pleasant Company) sold the brand and company to Mattel. There was a transitionary period from 1998 to 2000, after which Mattel fully took over. Since Mattel’s purchase of the brand, the availability of various items and the dolls themselves have changed. However, the brand continues to offer high-quality dolls with books, accessories, traditional clothes, and multiple educational aspects. There have even been American Girl movies!

American Girl Have Retired Some Dolls

Not everyone from the full Historical line is available to purchase directly from American Girl anymore. American Girl has “archived” several Historical Characters, including Pioneer Kirsten Larson in 2010, Revolutionary Felicity Merriman in 2011, and WWII-era Molly McIntire in 2013. Turn of the Century Samantha Parkington was the first character to retire in 2009. However, with the launch of BeForever, an updated rebranding of the Historical line, Samantha was rereleased with a new look. American Girl’s official reason for retirement was to make room for other perspectives and new characters in the Historical Line.

There Are Many New Historical Characters

american girl-melody doll
Melody Ellison

There have been several Historical Characters released beyond the first six (five, if you didn’t know about 1820s New Mexican Josefina Montoya). These characters are Kit Kittridge, from the 1930s Great Depression; Kaya’aton’my, a 1760s Native American (the first American Girl); Julie Albright, from the 1970s; Rebecca Rubin, a Jewish girl from 1910s; Maryellen Larkin, from the 1950s; and Melody Ellison, from 1960s Detroit.

Older Dolls Can Still Go to the Hospital

If you’re worried that a doll from the past can’t be repaired, don’t worry! The American Girl Hospital still offers repairs on any doll they’ve ever released. Dolls are sent to the hospital and, once fixed, come back in a hospital gown and a get well certificate. They’ll even have, if it’s possible, their hair returned to the original style. So if Kirsten’s braids have never been the same since she fell in the river, Felicity is sporting a bad haircut, or Molly’s still got a “tattoo” from when your younger sibling used markers on her face, don’t be scared to send her in.

There Are Physical Stores Across the US

Until 2000, the only way to purchase a doll was to call in or by making a mail order. Nowadays, American Girl – like most companies – can be ordered online. There are multiple stores called American Girl Place where dolls and items can be purchased on-site. The first store opened in Chicago in 2000 and since then, stores have opened in many cities across the US, Canada, and Mexico. Store experiences include doll hair salons, cafes, as well as items and experiences unique to that store. They can even host birthday parties!

There’s a Limited Edition ‘Girl of the Year’ Line

american girl doll lea clark

While the Historical Collection is the most well-known American Girl line, American Girl started releasing an annual ‘Girl of the Year.’ The ‘Girl of the Year’ is a modern 10-year-old girl living in or from America with her own focus and storyline. There have been 15 characters so far, each with their own books, focus, and collections (which are completely separate from the Historical line). The doll and her collection are available to purchase for one year starting on January 1, before being archived on December 31.

Modern-Style Dolls Still Exist

american girl dolls truly me

In 1995, American Girl launched American Girl of Today, a line showcasing modern looks alongside the Historical Collection. The range has gone through several name changes: Just Like You, My American Girl, and currently, Truly Me.

The line includes all kinds of clothing and accessories, from sporty gymnastics to casual wear, sleepover sets to pets and camping gear. You should take note, however, that you can’t customize these dolls to look like anyone specific. While there’s a wide selection of over 20 dolls to choose from, there is a chance a doll may look a lot like someone in particular. But American Girl can’t change what’s available directly from them, and they’ve never offered customized dolls.

American Girl Dolls Embrace Differences

american girl doll with hearing aid

American Girl dolls offer various forms of customization options and represent a wide cross-section of the community. Any 18” doll (that doesn’t already have permanent earrings, like Addy and Josefina) can have their ears pierced. Dolls can also have hearing aids fitted to one or both ears. There are even dolls without hair to reflect conditions that cause hair loss. While you need to specially order the bald dolls, you can add earrings and hearing aids when you order a doll or directly in-store after purchase. Other items that embrace disabilities include wheelchairs, arm braces, a guide dog set, and a diabetes care kit with a simulated insulin pump.

That’s a lot of changes over the past years. But American Girl, celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year, remains an uplifting company that people can reconnect with and enjoy.

Want to find out more about how toys play a part in pop culture? We look at what it all means in our article about myth in pop culture

Myth in Pop Culture: The Toy


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