Exhibits, that is. That probably isn’t the best headline for a history blog!
The Archives and History Committee recently changed the exhibit at the Nation’s Capital Council headquarters.
After two months on exhibit, we dismantled “Badges and Biscuits.” This theme covered Girl Guide badges and product sales. It also coincided with our cookie sale and World Thinking Day (February 22).
Girl Guide Badges
The badges date to the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had originally been presented to the former Rockwood national Girl Scout camp by visiting Girl Guides. When that facility closed in 1978, GSUSA left them behind, and they made their way into our council’s collection.
I discovered them wrapped in paper and shoved in a box a few years ago, and I have been looking for an opportunity to share them.
Unfortunately, the foreign badges had been affixed to lengths of burlap with some sort of space-age polymer. I used heat, alcohol, acetone, a jackhammer, and sticks of dynamite to remove them. (OK, not the last two, but I was seriously contemplating it.)
After nearly a week, I had them all removed. I remounted them on 12″x12″ scrapbook paper so that they could fit into frames for display now and stored into scrapbook-sized envelopes after.
I was delighted with the results:
Girl Guide Biscuits
We filled one display case with the Girl Guide badges, the other was devoted to Girl Guide cookie sales. We also had some Girl Guide cookie patches to tie the theme together.
I learned a lot from Girl Guide websites and historians. I stuck largely to English-language sources, so the examples are drawn from a small number of countries.
UK and Ireland
British Girl Guides do not sell cookies. The Girl Guiding historians I contacted seemed quite proud of this fact.
In contrast, Irish Girl Guides only began selling packets of chocolate chip biscuits in fall 2017. Officials introduced the new program to help “change the imbalance of the number of women in decision-making position across the various sectors of society such as businesses, companies, and boardrooms around Ireland.”
Canadian Girl Guides have two categories of cookies (sandwich and mint). One is sold in the fall; the other in the spring.
They also have an impressive cookie badge curriculum that includes lessons on the history of their cookie sales and samples of vintage posters, cookie boxes, and other memorabilia.
Australia and New Zealand
Australian Girl Guides have sold cookies for decades, but they are limited to one weekend across the entire country. Think of one mega booth sale.
Girl Guides in New Zealand kicked off their first biscuit sale in 1957, which grew to selling 28 million boxes per year. But March 2019 marked the last national Girl Guide biscuit sale in New Zealand. The organization plans to seek new fundraising programs for the future as biscuit sales provided one-third of its budget.
Keep following the Girl Scout History Project to see our latest installation!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
And there are patches for adults, too!
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.
For more on cookie patches and prizes over the years, see Cookie Crumbs, my web archive.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Searching 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.
I also have this patch, which is likely another incarnation of this program.
Staying 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.
Index-Journal (June 11, 1987)
Tennessean (June 20, 1975).
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.
Baltimore Sun 2/20/84
Daily Times 1/26/84
Daily Times 1/22/84
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.