Throughout the 1920s, Girl Scouts made their own cookies to sell as fund raisers. The baking and the selling may have helped girls work toward badges, and it certainly taught them all sorts of lessons–from working together, to how to be brave; from the importance of measuring ingredients accurately, to being responsible with money.
According to historian of Girl Scouting Tammy Proctor, in the 1920s some local troops began to turn to professional bakers to provide cookies. (1)
Philadelphia, however, boasts a historical marker about Girl Scout cookies. It began in 1932 when a public-spirited Girl Scout hoped to help orphans with her fresh cookies. She used the demonstration ovens in the window of the Philadelphia Gas and Electric Company (where her parents were employed). The delicious smell of the baking cookies drew a crowd of people who wanted to buy some–and the Girl Scout and her friends decided they would sell them. (2)
But the girls could not keep up with the demand, and so in 1934 the Philadelphia Girl Scout Council hired the local Keebler-Wyl Company to produce cookies for their Girl Scouts to sell. Shortly after, Philadelphia’s cookie sales had become so large that the Council handed off the task to the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. national headquarters in New York City which became “coordinator, licenser, and quality supervisor” for Girl Scout cookie sales all over. (3)
If you remember last week’s blog, you may recall that the Girl Scouts Federation of Greater New York had been selling cookies since at least 1923. A decade on, their efforts were referred to as “annual” events when they were announced in newspapers for eager New Yorkers. In 1935 Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was a strong supporter, and made a point of purchasing the first cookies available. He paid one quarter for a one-pound box containing 48 cookies. The fund-raising goal that year was seven million cookies (155,000 pounds’ worth). But the big difference was that in 1935, New York Girl Scouts were no longer baking their own cookies either. Instead “wholesale bakers” had been engaged.(4)
That same year in Chicago, Girl Scouts planned to raise money by selling almost five million cookies “wrapped in cellophane, tied with green ribbon and decorated with green and white tags, showing a Girl Scout in full uniform.” Each pretty package contained four dozen cookies and sold for fifteen cents. In the Windy City the girls were prepared. All the girls had been trained in the basics of “salesmanship.”(5)
Just as Juliette Low had licensed one particular company to manufacture Girl Scout uniforms, in 1937, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. licensed ABC Bakers (Interbake) to make official Girl Scout cookies.(6)
The thought of baking millions of cookies is indeed daunting. And even if all the girls and their leaders were following the same sugar cookie recipe, quality control would have been nearly impossible. It seems clear that by the 1920s cookie sales were entrenched as a fund raiser in New York City, and that the project caught on quickly elsewhere. Commercially baked cookies followed as the idea became more and more popular, until by 1937 homemade cookies were a thing of the past–at least for raising money. I know from personal experience that Girl Scouts, even today, bake from scratch for all kinds of other reasons!
(1) Tammy Proctor, Scouting for Girls (New York: Greenwood, 2009), 103.
(2) GSUSA website (http://www.girlscouts.org/program/gs_cookies/cookie_history/1930s.asp) and Pennsylvania Center for the Book (http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/GirlScoutCookies.html)
(3) Pennsylvania Center for the Book and Fred Ferretti,”The Selling of the Girl Scout Cookie, 1981,” New York Times, 11 March 1981.
(4) “Mayor Buys 48 Cookies To Aid Girl Scout Drive,” New York Times, 29 October 1935. For seven million: “First Scout Cookies Thursday,” New York Times, 10 November 1935.
(5) “Celebrate 23D Birthday Rites for Girl Scouts,” Chicago Tribune, 10 March 1935.