It’s under Mattel that the company has grown beyond its original catalogue focus to add retail stores and online sales. Last year, American Girl rang up annual sales of $511 million. Even with increased competition and a $105 price tag for the average doll, sales have continued to grow.
“American Girl has really been a bright spot for Mattel,” said Edward Woo, senior research analyst who follows the toys industry for Ascendiant Capital Markets. “They’ve got a very good niche. They have been able to create more demand by opening more stores and creating new characters. Even with the economy, they’ve done surprisingly well.”
While some of Rowland’s original historical dolls have been retired, today there are nine dolls in the historical collection from Kaya, a Nez Perce Indian girl from 1774, to Julie Albright, who is growing up in San Francisco in 1974 and dealing with the divorce of her parents. There’s also the story of Addy Walker, who is escaping slavery in 1864, and Kit Kittredge, who is growing up during the Great Depression in 1934.
Every year American Girl releases a new historical doll, like this year’s addition, Caroline Abbott, who grew up during the War of 1812 and when her father is captured she must keep the shipyard running.
The historical dolls each come with authentic accessories to provide appropriate playtime activities like Caroline’s skiff, the sailboat used during that time period. Plus, each doll has as a series of six books that take the reader through the challenges the historical girl faced.
At Carrollton School in Coconut Grove they’ve found the American Girl stories an effective medium to bring historical events to life in a way that students can understand and relate to. The stories have been part of the school’s third grade language arts and history curriculum for about 20 years.
Lily Lamelas already has a collection of about 24 American Girl dolls and can’t wait to get the new Caroline doll when she visits the store. But reading about the dolls this year at school is giving new meaning to the experience. Her favorite so far: Felicity Merriman, a colonial girl from 1774.
“She’s very pretty and her books are very interesting,” said Lily, an 8-year-old from Pine Crest. “I love reading about her and her family.”