Discover the History of Girl Scout Cookies

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There’s nothing like a Thin Mint — frozen and crispy — straight out of the freezer. Or perhaps a rich, decadent Tagalong, the perfect blend of chocolate and peanut butter. Girl Scout cookies have been a part of our lives for years.

“For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts and their enthusiastic supporters have helped ensure the success of the iconic annual cookie sale,” says Kelly Parisi, head of communications for Girl Scouts, USA. “But the program has always been about so much more than our great tasting cookies. The proceeds from every sale stay local and every Girl Scout Cookie purchase fuels local Girl Scouts’ adventures throughout the year, exploring what interests them, discovering their passions, and taking action on issues they care about.”

Have you ever wondered how these little bites of joy were born? We took a trip down memory lane and researched the history of Girl Scout cookies

105 Years Ago

In 1917, the Girl Scout Cookie Program began as a grassroots project five years after founder Juliette Gordon Low started the Girl Scouts. They were originally baked at home by Girl Scouts (younger ones were overseen by mom volunteers) to raise money for troop activities. 

Five years after that, The American Girl magazine (published by the Girl Scouts) featured an article by an Illinois director named Florence Neil. She included a recipe handed out to the Chicago Council’s couple thousand Girl Scouts. The cost of ingredients for six to seven dozen cookies? A mere 26 to 36 cents. Neil said the cookies could be sold for a quarter to 30 cents per dozen. The price of an average box today? Five dollars.

An article in THE RALLY magazine (FEB 1919) reports that the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, OK baked cookies just before Christmas 1917 and sold them in their high school cafeteria for a profit. The proceeds of the sale were used to buy khaki handkerchiefs and ingredients to make candy to send to soldiers. This is the earliest known mention of a Girl Scout cookie sale.

The 1930s through 1950s

By 1934, the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia became the first council to sell commercially baked cookies. In 1935, the Girl Scout Federation of Greater New York also started raising money through commercially baked cookie sales. The group bought its own die in the shape of a trefoil and used the phrase “Girl Scout Cookies” on the box. Just two years later, cookie popularity grew and more than 125 councils had their own cookie sales.

Unfortunately, due to World War II’s sugar, flour, and butter shortages, Girl Scouts ended up selling calendars as an alternative in 1944. Post-war efforts had nearly 30 bakers licensed to make the iconic treats.

By the 1950s, cookies came in three variations: sandwich, shortbread, and chocolate mints (later known as Thin Mints). With the rise of the suburbs after the war, girls sold a lot of cookies door-to-door in their neighborhoods and at tables in malls. More flavors were added later in the ‘50s.

The 1960s through 1980s

As Baby Boomers continued to grow Girl Scouts membership in their hometowns, cookie sales skyrocketed. Bakers began wrapping the cookies in aluminum foil or cellophane to preserve freshness. By 1966, peanut butter sandwich cookies (aka Do-si-dos) were added.

In the 1970s, the number of Girl Scout licensed bakers was whittled down to just four — to allow for lower prices, better quality, packaging, and distribution. For the first time in history, all the cookie boxes showed the same designs and scenes (similar to what we see on boxes today). Girl Scout Cookies in the ‘70s included Thin Mints, peanut butter sandwiches/Do-Si-Dos and shortbread/Trefoils as well as four more varieties.

In the ‘80s, four bakers produced a maximum of seven types of cookies, including the three mentioned above and four additional options.

The 1990s through 2010s

By the 1990s, the Girl Scouts had begun offering healthier variations with low-fat and sugar-free options. They also created a Cookie Activity pin that was awarded for cookie sale participation.

By the time the 2000s came along, all cookies were certified kosher. The youngest Girl Scouts, the Daisies, also began selling cookies.

In the 2010s, Girl Scouts began selling cookies via the Digital Cookie platform. The launch of the site made it easier for those with no in-person cookie sales in their communities to buy treats. Girl Scouts learned about online marketing, app usage, and e-commerce. The first gluten-free Girl Scout cookie was unveiled as well.

The 2020s to Now

Girl Scout S’mores and Adventurefuls cookies were introduced and the Cookie Entrepreneur Family pin collection was unveiled. By 2021, Girl Scout cookies became Halal certified and offered vegan choices too.

In staying true to their legacy of thriving through challenges with an innovative spirit, Girl Scouts have partnered with DoorDash this year to deliver cookies in areas of the country where COVID-19 safety protocols are still in place.

Girl Scouts Remember

It was fun to chat with fellow former Girl Scouts about their cookie memories. Ashley Reed’s parents took cookie selling “extremely seriously.” 

“They’d force me to overcome my shyness and approach every attorney in the courthouse and try to sell them cookies,” she said.

Jessica Bettencourt sold cookies at her church growing up, as a Brownie and Junior Girl Scout. There were many Girl Scouts at her church, which was a small congregation, so competition was as she described it, “fierce yet friendly.”

“One member of the church, Carolyn Webster, was an older woman who had been a Girl Scout,” Bettencourt said. “She made sure to buy a case of cookies from each of us, every year.” 

If you’re wondering what Mrs. Webster did with all those cookies, she froze them and brought them out for guests and gifts all year long. Now that Bettencourt is old enough to buy cookies of her own, she recalls Mrs. Webster fondly and always tries to buy some too. 

“I also remember the year I actually sold a decent number of boxes, and they took over half my living room trying to sort them,” she says. “I had to deliver them, do the math, and collect the money — it was hard work for an elementary school kid.”

Katelyn Keegan sold door-to-door growing up in her neighborhood (with her mom a few steps behind). “When it came time to deliver, I remember having to make change at the person’s door,” she says. “Boxes were $2.50 so you needed to have a ton of quarters to make change.”

She loaded her little red wagon with cookies and took them to all the neighborhood homes to drop them off.

Before you go, check out this vintage commercial, circa 1976, hyping up Americans for the sweet treats. 

If you have a favorite memory of selling — or buying — Girl Scout cookies, send us a note to info@circlearound.com and we’ll share your memories on social media.

Tags: Entrepreneur, Girl Scout, girl scout cookies, Girl Scouts

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Written By

Kate Oczypok

Kate Oczypok is a freelance writer based in the DC area. She lives with her husband and dog and also teaches piano lessons. See Full Bio

CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA, and we make financial distributions to benefit the next generation of Girl Scouts. We strive to make the world a better place by supporting each other today and emboldening the women leaders of tomorrow.

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