The Girl Scout Cookie: An Origin Story

The Girl Scout Cookie: An Origin Story

Take a look at the origin story of the the Girl Scout Cookie Program—from what started as a small localized fundraiser in the early 1900’s to a culturally iconic institution of American culture today.

For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts and our supporters have helped ensure the success of the iconic annual cookie sale and fundraiser—and Girl Scouts who have participated in the Girl Scout Cookie Program, developed valuable life skills, and made their communities a better place every step of the way. Want to read more about our Girl Scout Cookie history? Continue reading from contributor and historian Karen Schillings

By Karen Schillings

The 2021-2022 Girl Scout Cookie Program is currently in full swing. Our faithful customers across the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council (GSGCNWI) are anxiously awaiting these annual sweet treats. However, did you ever think about how this yearly tradition got started? Well, as one of the Council historians who oversees the GSGCNWI cookie collection, I’ll do my best to give you an overview of how a local troop fund raiser ended up becoming an $800 million per year nationwide girl-led business.

It all started in 1917 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The cookies were personally baked by the Mistletoe Troop and sold in their school cafeteria as a service project. The profits were used to send gifts to doughboys fighting in World War I. A statue of a Girl Scout stands at the entrance to the Three Rivers Museum in Muskogee to commemorate this historical event.

Statue of a Girl Scout selling cookies at the Three Rivers Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

As Girl Scout troops across the country contemplated ways to raise funds, the bake sale concept became more prevalent. In July, 1922, The American Girl magazine published a recipe that was being used by troops in Chicago—a simple sugar cookie. The troops sold their cookies for $.25 to $.30 per dozen. Later that decade, the bake sale model was turned into a door-to-door campaign with the girls packaging the cookies in wax paper bags.

So, how did the Girl Scout cookie sale go from the girls’ kitchens to having commercial bakers?  It all started in 1934, when the Greater Philadelphia Council contacted the Keebler–Weyl Company, requesting their assistance. The company agreed to bake and package vanilla Girl Scout Cookies in the trefoil shape. Thus, the first council-wide sale of commercially baked cookies was initiated. Other nearby councils were impressed with the success of the Greater Philadelphia council and requested to be included in the bakery orders. Hence, Keebler-Weyl was the first commercial company to bake the cookies and became the official baker of Girl Scout Cookies.

First Lady Mrs. Calvin Coolidge (left) eating a homemade Girl Scout cookie in 1923.

Because the cookie sale was becoming so profitable for Girl Scouts, it went national in 1936. Girl Scouts of USA (GSUSA) began licensing commercial bakers in all parts of the country to make sure that Girl Scout cookies could be found in every corner of the U.S. And by the way, those trefoil shortbread cookies           developed by Keebler-Weyl are still sold by Girl Scouts. However, now they are under the Little Brownie Bakers moniker, which is a division of Keebler.

By 1937 more than 125 Girl Scout councils were holding cookie sales. The licensing of bakers continued to grow, and at one time there were 29 bakers. Burry became the largest supplier in the nation during the 1960’s. In 1980 it became Burry-Lu and was later purchased by ABC Bakers of Richmond, Virginia in 1989.  Today, there are only two official licensed bakeries, Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers. Both companies make the five standard cookies offered yearly, although each company has its own names for these cookies. The exception is the classic Thin Mints, the name used by both companies for this cookie.

1956 Burry Girl Scout Cookies, the popular Sandwich Cremes.

Little Brownie Bakers calls their cookies Trefoils, Samoas, Tagalongs, and Do-si-does.

Whereas ABC Bakers uses the names Shortbread, Carmel Delights, Peanut Butter Patties, and Peanut Butter Sandwich.

Both companies are also making the new cookie, Adventurefuls, for the 2021-22 cookie season.

As you can see, the Girl Scout cookie program has come a long way from the its start over 100 years ago, and during that time, it has become one of our organization’s (and nation’s) most treasured traditions.

When you buy Girl Scout cookies, you aren’t just enjoying a delicious treat, you’re helping Girl Scouts gain the skills and confidence to change the world—one box of cookies at a time.

From hiking in the woods to community service, your cookie purchase helps Girl Scouts learn, grow, and thrive through adventure. Now that’s a powerful cookie! Ready to taste the adventure? 

Want to be a part of this awesome program and build upon five life skills like goal setting, decision making and money-management? Join Girl Scouts today!

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