Girl Scout Cookies are an icon of American culture. For nearly 100 years, Girl Scouts, with the enthusiastic support of their families, have helped ensure the success of this annual sale. From its earliest beginnings, the Girl Scout Cookie Program has helped girls have fun, develop valuable life skills, and make their communities a better place.
Girl Scout Cookies had their earliest beginnings in the kitchens and ovens of our girl members, with moms volunteering as technical advisers. The sale of cookies as a way to finance troop activities began as early as 1917—five years after Juliette Gordon Low started Girl Scouting in the United States—when the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, baked cookies and sold them in its high school cafeteria as a service project.
In July 1922, The American Girl magazine, published by Girl Scout national headquarters, featured an article by Florence E. Neil, a local director in Chicago, Illinois. Miss Neil provided a cookie recipe that had been given to the council's 2,000 Girl Scouts. She estimated the approximate cost of ingredients for six- to seven-dozen cookies to be 26 to 36 cents. The cookies, she suggested, could be sold by troops for 25 or 30 cents per dozen.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Girl Scouts in different parts of the country continued to bake their own simple sugar cookies with their mothers. These cookies were packaged in wax paper bags, sealed with a sticker, and sold door to door for 25 to 35 cents per dozen.
Girl Scout Cookie, circa 1922
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar plus additional amount
for topping (optional)
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Cream butter and the cup of sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking powder. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll dough, cut into trefoil shapes, and sprinkle sugar on top, if desired.
Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.
In 1933, Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia council baked cookies and sold them in the city's gas and electric company windows. The cost was just 23 cents per box of 44 cookies, or six boxes for $1.24! Through this new effort, the girls developed their marketing and business skills and raised funds for their local Girl Scout council. A year later, Greater Philadelphia took cookie sales to the next level, becoming the first council to sell commercially baked cookies.
In 1935, the Girl Scout Federation of Greater New York raised money through the sale of commercial cookies. Buying its own die in the shape of a trefoil, the group used the words “Girl Scout Cookies” on the box. In 1936, the national Girl Scout organization began the process of licensing the first commercial baker to produce cookies that would be sold nationwide by girls in Girl Scout councils.
Enthusiasm for Girl Scout Cookies spread nationwide. By 1937, more than 125 Girl Scout councils reported holding cookie sales.
Girl Scout Cookies were sold by local councils around the country until World War II, when sugar, flour, and butter shortages led Girl Scouts to begin selling calendars to raise money for activities.
After the war, cookie sales resumed, with the national organization licensing local bakers to produce and package cookies. By 1948, a total of 29 bakers were licensed to bake Girl Scout Cookies.
In 1951, Girl Scout Cookies came in three varieties: Peanut Butter Sandwich, Shortbread, and Chocolate Mints (now known as Thin Mints). With the growth of the suburbs, Girl Scouts began selling cookies at tables in shopping malls.
Five years later, flavors had evolved. Girl Scouts sold four basic types of cookies: a vanilla-based filled cookie, a chocolate-based filled one, a shortbread one, and a chocolate mint. Some bakers also offered an additional optional flavor.
During the 1960s, when Baby Boomers expanded Girl Scout membership, cookie sales increased significantly. Fourteen licensed bakers were mixing batter for thousands upon thousands of Girl Scout Cookies annually. And those bakers began wrapping Girl Scout cookie boxes in printed aluminum foil or cellophane to protect the cookies and preserve their freshness.
By 1966, a number of varieties were available. Among the best sellers were Chocolate Mint (now known as Thin Mints), Shortbread, and Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies.
In 1978, the number of bakers was streamlined to four to ensure lower prices and uniform quality, packaging, and distribution. For the first time in history, all cookie boxes—regardless of the baker—featured the same designs and depicted scenes of Girl Scouts in action, enjoying activities such as hiking and canoeing. And in 1979, the brand-new, Saul Bass–created Girl Scout logo appeared on cookie boxes, which became more original and began promoting the benefits of Girl Scouting.
Cookies for sale during the 1970s included Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Sandwich/Do-si-dos®, and Shortbread/Trefoils® cookies, plus four additional choices.
In 1982, four bakers still produced a maximum of seven varieties of cookies—three mandatory (Thin Mint®, Peanut Butter Sandwich/Do-si-dos®, and Shortbread/Trefoils®) and four optional. Cookie boxes depicted scenes of Girl Scouts in action.
1984 brought a new twist: some of the licensed bakers produced gift samplings of cookies in special decorative tins.
In the early 1990s, two licensed bakers supplied local Girl Scout councils with cookies for girls to sell, and by 1998, this number had grown again to three. Eight cookie varieties were available, including low-fat and sugar-free selections that never sold well enough to continue producing.
GSUSA also introduced official age-appropriate awards for Girl Scout Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, and Seniors, including the Cookie Activity Pin, which was awarded for participating in cookie activities.
Early in the twenty-first century, every Girl Scout cookie had a mission. New cookie box designs, introduced in fall of 2000, were bold and bright, capturing the spirit of Girl Scouting. Two licensed bakers produced a maximum of eight varieties, including three that were mandatory (Thin Mints®, Peanut Butter Sandwich/Do-si-dos®, and Shortbread/Trefoils®). All cookies were kosher. And, much to the excitement of our youngest Girl Scouts, Daisies started selling cookies!
As of 2012, all boxes of Girl Scout Cookies have a new look and a new purpose: to elevate the significance of the Girl Scout Cookie Program, a $790-million girl-led business. The iconic Girl Scout Cookie package showcases the five financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills that the Girl Scout Cookie Program teaches girls, skills that will last them a lifetime: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics.
The decision to update the package came about in 2010 as part of an overall brand refresh in advance of the organization's 100th anniversary on March 12, 2012. The package needed to be more contemporary to reflect the new brand identity and to embody the spirit of Girl Scouting, while showing customers how they can reconnect with the organization. GSUSA partnered with the New York office of Anthem Worldwide, the brand development division of Schawk Inc., to redesign the packaging to inspire consumers and engage them on the important role that Girl Scouts plays in girls' lives.