Narwhals, Leopards, and Cookies, Oh My!

The 2019 season is nearing its end, with a heated contest for the Narwhals and Clouded Leopards.

Am I talking about NCAA basketball? The Super Bowl, World Series, or some national team mascot showdown?

No, it’s time to wrap up Girl Scout cookie season for 2019.

Each cookie baker has an annual theme with a mascot that shows up in promotional materials, cookie patches, and other incentives that girls earn for selling various amounts of cookies.

This year it was the ABC Narwhals against Little Brownie Bakers’ Clouded Leopard.

ABC Narwhal
Little Brownie Baker’s Clouded Leopard

Each baker has a motivational theme associated with its yearly sale (Inspire, Imagine, Innovate! and Go for Bold!), but you need a mascot to use for a cute plush incentive. (Although I do wonder about that horn on the narwhal, seems more hazardous than cuddly.)

The mascots even have names!

Nellie Narwhal has an identity crisis. Some councils call her “Sparkles”

Tradition of Prizes

Cookie incentives are almost as old as cookie sales themselves, but most councils originally applied cookie profits to summer camp fees. Some councils offered patches or charms to sellers. I still remember the goal I set for my first cookie sale–enough to attend day camp free. The pride of “earning it yourself” is behind all incentive programs.

Cookie prizes from the 1960s (author’s collection)

When Girl Scouts of the USA consolidated the cookie program into a handful of national bakers in the 1970s, the companies introduced annual themes and mascots. Burry-LU’s animal series is perhaps the best known, not just for its bright colors and easily recognizable design, but for a few “what were they thinking?” selections.

My poster “wall of shame,” according to my family

Prize Proliferation

The number of patches has grown exponentially since the 1990s, as councils, bakers, and some third-party vendors have jumped on the bandwagon with offerings related to the annual theme.

Visually similar patches with absolutely nothing to do with cookies, such as early registration, have been added to create a yearly set of patches.

Compare, for example, 1972 with 2015-16.

Cookie patches from 1972 (Cookie Crumbs)
Cookie patches from 2015-2016 (Cookie Crumbs)
and they keep coming!! (Cookie Crumbs)

And there are patches for adults, too!

Girls’ Choice

The patches and other prizes are fun and appealing to many Girl Scouts. Many consumers may not realize that the girls have a say in the marketing program as well.

In most councils, older Girl Scouts (middle school and high school age) can opt out of the incentive program in return for a higher profit per box. This is especially appealing for girls and troops saving up over several years for a big trip. After all, a girl can use only so many sparkly pens. (Opt-out girls usually still receive some patches.)

Girls also have a say in selecting the mascot for the next cookie season. Some councils allow all girls to vote, others may use a more limited random sample, but the principle of girl-led carries through.

Little Brownie Bakers ballot for 2018-2019. Are Macaws and Frogs really “furry”?
Cookie mascot options for 2019-2020 from ABC Bakers

For more on cookie patches and prizes over the years, see Cookie Crumbs, my web archive.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Thin Mints and Nutella?

News this week that Girl Scout cookie supplier Little Brownie Bakers has been sold to an Italian company proved to be no April Fool’s joke.

Girl Scout cookies from Little Brownie Bakers

In a deal valued at $1.3 billion, Ferrero Group purchased select properties from Kellogg, including Little Brownie, Keebler, and Famous Amos.

I found out from a Wall Street Journal reporter who called me for background on the history of Girl Scout cookie sales. Although I was surprised by the news, I’m not alarmed. Flavors, food trends, and bakers have come and gone for years, but Girl Scout cookies aren’t going away.

The Pooh Tree at Camp Potomac Woods

Despite the Keebler connection, Girl Scout cookies have never been made by elves in hollow trees. Besides, our hollow trees are full of girls.

Girl Scouts in Oklahoma began selling homemade cookies in 1917. Their popularity led other troops to fire up their ovens. As the volume of cookie sales increased, in 1934 Girl Scouts in Philadelphia turned to Keebler-Wyl, a commercial baker, to produce shortbread cookies.

From Many Bakers to Two

Other councils followed the Philly girls’ lead and negotiated contracts with regional companies. Volume and demand increased exponentially, until there were 29 authorized bakers by 1948. Another 14 were added in the 1960s.

All bakers made the signature shortbread cookie, and by the 1960s many had introduced mint and sandwich cookies. Most bakers also offered one or two of their own flavors.

As part of a brand standardization effort, the national Girl Scout organization limited production to four bakers starting in 1978. GSUSA provided graphics and program information, although the individual bakers picked their own annual theme, usually with a cute animal mascot.

By the early 1990s, the number of bakers had narrowed to two: Little Brownie Bakers, based in Louisville, and ABC Bakers of Richmond, Virginia. (Who bakes for you? Click here.)

I never made it to the bakery, but I got a patch 30 years later.

(Disclosure: As a born-and-raised Kentucky girl, I’ve always been partial to Little Brownie. When my Cadette troop visited Louisville years ago, we wanted to arrange a tour. I couldn’t find “Little Brownie” in the phone book so I called information. The operator thought it was a prank call and hung up on me.)

While the bakers have changed over the years, the basic recipes have not. Hopefully that will continue to be the case with Ferrero.

Other Foreign Connections

I can’t imagine Ferrero moving production overseas as it would prohibitively drive up shipping costs. But even if they did, it would not be the first time that some Girl Scout cookies were not made in the USA.

In 1984, sharp-eyed consumers noticed “Made in Belgium” written on boxes of Kookaburras. Representatives from the baker, Burry-LU, explained that that they were still testing the flavor. Because US-based factories did not have the proper equipment, this one flavor was temporarily being made in Belgium. It the cookie made the cut, Burry-LU would need to fork over $2 million for new production equipment.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

And if anyone wants to get very picky, ABC Bakers is a subsidiary of the Toronto-based Weston Foods.

Change is the Secret Ingredient

What makes Girl Scout cookies so popular? It is a combination of tradition, quality, adorable vendors, and flexibility.

Each baker is required to offer four traditional cookies (Mint, Samoa, Trefoil, Tagalong) plus up to four more flavors. Over the years, these elective varieties have often reflected changing tastes and dietary concerns. Past offerings have been low-fat, crunchy granola, gluten free, 100-calorie packets, and even crackers, such as the Golden Yangles of the 1980s.

Source: Mental Floss (March 4, 2016)

Perhaps it is easier to justify scarfing down a box of Thin Mints if you balance them out with such healthier options.

That’s a Lot of Cookies

Simply stated, the Girl Scout cookie jar is too big to loose. With total revenue from both bakers estimated at $800 million annually, including Little Brownie Bakers undoubtedly sweetened the deal for Ferrero.

I don’t see a need to begin hoarding Girl Scout cookies–not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Instead, I see the new owners as offering some tantalizing opportunities.

Two words: Nutella cookies. I’m just saying…

For more cookie history fun, see Cookie Crumbs, my online archive of cookie prizes past and present.

©2019 Ann Robertson

Flying with Girl Scout Cookies

This poster hangs on a wall at our Archives and History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland. Bright yellow and 28×22″, it always attracts comments.

However, we didn’t know the story behind the picture. We found it in the back of a closet, in a ratty old frame held together with Scotch tape.

Based on the uniforms and the fact that it says “70th Anniversary,” the image is obviously from the early 1980s, presumably 1982.

But the mystery was solved thanks to an old Nation’s Capital newsletter. For Girl Scout Week 1982, Delta Airlines replaced their normal peanut snacks with packets of Trefoil shortbread cookies. Delta bought and distributed 800,000 cookies March 7-13, 1982.

This was the second time an airline joined the national cookie sales. In 1981 United made what was then the largest corporate cookie purchase in history. United included a packet of two Trefoils on every meal tray.

The success of the United program encouraged Delta to participate. Delta went one step further, having their own company artist, Brad Diggers, commemorate Girl Scouts’ 70th birthday with a special painting.

Limited editions of the painting were presented to 15 Girl Scout councils served by Delta. Nation’s Capital has print number 10 of 34.

Close-up of artist’s signature

Happy Birthday, Girl Scouts!!

© 2019 Ann Robertson

Winter with the Girl Scouts

With record low temperatures across the country, I’m sure you are all wondering what Girl Scouts do in the winter. Admit it. 

That simple question is the theme of the current Archives and History Committee display at the main office of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital at 4301 Connecticut Ave NW in Washington, DC.

The answer? Lots!

Play Outside

Keep Toasty Warm

Girl Scouts have long had many options for frosty fashions. And if they have nothing in their closet, they will knit something themselves!

img_0119

Girl Scout winter wear

Go Camping!

Personally, I’ll stick with lodge camping in the winter, but some hardy souls will still pitch their tents in the snow.

winter camping

Winter camping (2002 GSCNC Calendar)

And let’s not forget the brave troop that was rescued by helicopter from Camp Potomac Woods after a surprise snowstorm in 1958. Here they are after arriving at Ft. Belvoir.

dec06ar19

 

Earn a Badge

There have always been badges appropriate for winter time.

 

March in a Parade

Holiday parades, Martin Luther King Day parades, Presidents’ Day parades, Girl Scouts take part whenever asked. And every four years, there is a presidential inauguration to take part in.

Enjoy Tasty Treats

Bake cookies, decorate gingerbread, sip cocoa, or try a cookie-flavored coffee pod and creamer.

Sell Cookies!

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will distract us from a cookie booth.

Erins_Last_Booth

My daughter’s last cookie booth, March 2015. We froze our cookies off.

But the absolute best part of the exhibit? New lights.

Finally, everyone can see the treasures on display!

©2019 Ann Robertson

Badge Mysteries Solved

Marvelous_Mystery_Jr

Marvelous Mystery, Black Diamond Council

Regular readers of the Girl Scout History Project know that I am obsessed with the former Council’s Own badge program. From the 1950s until the Girl Scout Leadership Experience was introduced in 2011, troops and councils could create badges on topics not already covered by the national Girl Scout program. (More history will come in another post.)

I used my Council’s Own collection as the basis for a website (gscobadge.info) that archives the images and requirements for over 1,000 badges. My intention is to help identify mystery badges and to provide inspiration for new patch programs.

Incredible_Insects_Jr

Look, a Council’s Own bug!

Other Girl Scout adults have been bitten by the CO bug, and many people have helped expand the website contents. I see “my” photos across the internet.  Of course, the biggest surprise was seeing one of my website photos (unattributed, of course) appropriated for a presentation former CEO Anna-Maria Chavez made at the 2014 National Council Session. (Now I watermark most photos, just in case.)

 

COs_in_SLC

Why are they showing a photo of my desk?

It is an especially thrilling moment (at least for me) when I finally identify a mystery badge. I’ve cracked the code on several this summer and decided to share them here.

If a mystery badge is on a sash, that provides some major clues: specifically, a council and a rough date. The council indicated on an ID strip may not have created the badge, but it is a start. In addition to knowing the years a particular sash or vest was in use, don’t forget to look at cookie and event patches that have a specific year or two.

I also regularly troll eBay and sometimes I’ll see the mystery badge there. If it’s on a sash, then there are a few more clues.

Next, I do some keyword searches on Newspapers.com. I use the state and year clues to limit the results, and, lately, I’ve had some really good luck.

Tennessee History TrioSearching for “Girl Scout,” badge, and “Tennessee history” gave me 32 results. But when I limited it to the 1970s, based on the badge fabric and design, I found that a troop of girls in Reelfoot Council had created their own Tennessee History badge in 1977.

The design description is a little different, but it is reasonable to think that when the badge was manufactured on a larger scale, the design became more elaborate.

Tennessee History

I also have this patch, which is likely another incarnation of this program.

Tennessee Reelfoot

OprylandStaying with the Tennessee theme, I was delighted to acquire this badge around the same time. Opryland USA was a theme park in Nashville from 1972 to 1997. I grew up in Kentucky, about 2.5 hours away, and Opryland was a frequent destination for school, church, and other field trips.

Another search on Newspapers.com turned up several clippings about Girl Scout troops going to Opryland. According to one, there was an annual Girl Scout weekend that included a badge. It sounds like girls had to complete a scavenger hunt across the park’s attractions to earn it.

Worlds_Fair_Jr

1982 World’s Fair

I never attended the Opryland Girl Scout weekend when I was a girl, but my troop did go to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. I didn’t know at the time there was a World’s Fair badge, but better late than never!

This castle badge has long been one of my favorite mystery badges, and I assumed it was something about fairy tales. Then I saw TWO of them on a single sash from Central Maryland. Someone had added a date to one of them with a pen.  Hmmmm…

Back at Newspapers.com, I tried a search using “Girl Scout,” cookie and castle. That came up with over 12,000 hits. When I restricted the findings to 1982 and Maryland, the database returned a much more manageable four articles.

It turns out that Central Maryland sponsored an annual Cookie Castle Contest, with specific themes like fairy tales and famous landmarks. Every Girl Scout who entered received this cute castle badge.

A little more searching turned up photos of some of the creations, especially as more and more councils held their own competitions.

Finally, let me repeat that THESE BADGE PROGRAMS ARE DISCONTINUED. Do not contact Council shops asking to purchase them, because that triggers snippy emails asking me to take down the reference site or portions of it.

Perhaps instead of getting annoyed, council shopkeepers should take the hint and reinstate or update their programs.

©2018 Ann Robertson

Girl Scout Spirit of 1776

To celebrate Independence Day, I’ll share part of my Girl Scout Bicentennial patch collection.

The Girl Scouts joined the rest of the United States to celebrate our country’s 200th birthday in 1976. Councils, troops, and cookie bakers all got into the spirit, issuing Bicentennial-themed patches. The Connecticut Trails Council even issued a very popular series of badges, “If I Were a Girl Scout in 1776.”

Enjoy!!

©2018 Ann Robertson

Cookie Switch?

No, it’s not a new flavor or a blind taste test. It’s a delightful cookie incentive from Little Brownie Bakers in 1994:

IMG_4077 The switchplate matches the Volunteer patch from that year:

IMG_4078

That makes me think that it was an incentive for Volunteers. But who knows, there may be girls out there who love switchplates.

This exciting new addition to the Nation’s Capital archival collection is on display (and in use!) at our Frederick Archives and History Program Center.

This is one artifact that you can definitely touch!

©2017 Ann Robertson