Combining play with learning, a love of dolls with a love of history, American Girl dolls were first developed in 1986 by the Pleasant Company, which was founded by Pleasant Rowland, a former teacher who had published text books for children.

American Dolls are 18 inches in size with soft bodies and vinyl heads, arms, and legs. Each doll represents a young girl living in an important time in American history and comes with a book that gives a historically accurate account of her life. Other books featuring her adventures and experiences are sold separately.

The Pleasant Company initially released just three American Girl dolls: Kirsten Larson, a pioneer who grew up in Minnesota in 1854; Samantha Parkinson, who lived with her wealthy grandmother in 1904; and Molly McIntyre, a child of 1944 whose father cared for injured soldiers overseas during the war.

Soon, more dolls were added, such as Felicity Merriman, who lived in Virginia in 1774; Kaya, a Nez Perce girl from 1764; Addy Walker, who lived in 1864 and, with her mother, escaped from a life of slavery; and Nellie O’Malley, an orphan girl from New York circa 1906.

American Girl dolls continue to be popular today, and new girls are continuously added to the line. For example, Rebecca Rubin, a Jewish girl who lived with her family in New York in 1914, was released in 2009.

In 1995, the Just Like You line was unveiled. Just Like You dolls were similar to the original American Girl dolls, only more modern in clothing style, and their eye and hair color, skin tone, and facial features could be customized to look like the girl purchasing them.

American Doll collectors seek out more than just dolls. Life-size replicas of the clothing worn by the three original American Girl dolls became available in 1988, including accessories such as hats and jewelry. Other costumes were added as new dolls were released, and for a brief period in the early 1990s, sewing patterns were available...

In 1991, the company offered a Pastimes Subscription package, a one-year subscription that provided activity books and crafts kits representative of the types of activities in which the original three dolls, Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly, participated. As more dolls were released, Pastimes Subscriptions became available for each.

Other collectible items include trading cards, CD-ROMs, puzzles, figurines, Christmas ornaments, sewing patterns for the dolls’ costumes, and maps showing the towns in which the girls lived. Even the company’s giveaway items have proven collectible—in 2002, baseball uniforms made to fit the dolls were handed out to girls at certain Major League Baseball games. Pleasant also created special items such as snowglobes, backpacks, and outfits that could only be obtained by visiting American Girl Place in Chicago.

Rowland sold the Pleasant Company to Mattel (the same company that owns Barbie) in 1998, and the dolls continue to be made in a high-quality fashion today.

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