Conjured from the imagination of cartoonist Johnny Gruelle, she was more than a regular doll — she became a multi-media star. Paired with her brother, Raggedy Andy, she embarked on a host of whimsical adventures, captivating audiences far and wide for generations.
Raggedy Ann, in her humble, raggedy glory, has stood the test of time. From the hands of doting children to the shelves of ardent collectors, the icon continues to charm with her vintage appeal. The Raggedy Ann doll is more than a toy: it’s a piece of history, and a testament to the power of simplicity.
The ongoing popularity of the Raggedy Ann doll attests to her enduring appeal, proving that vintage doesn’t always mean outdated — it can also mean timeless.
Here, we’ve reprinted a retrospective article about the doll’s history from 1974, as well as a collection of Raggedy Ann doll photos and products from the past century.
Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls become a multi-million-dollar business (1974)
By Suzanne Hovik – The Minneapolis Star (Minnesota) October 8, 1974
Sixty years ago, when Johnny Gruelle sketched a new face on an old rag doll and named her Raggedy Ann, he created a lovable companion for his daughter and future generations of children. The soft rag doll also has become the basis for a multi-million-dollar business.
The Knickerbocker Toy Co. acquired the rights to make the doll in 1962, and this year expects to have $10 million to $11 million in sales from Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls in six sizes, sleeping bags, wooden mobiles, bean-bag dolls, hand puppets, and musical dolls.
Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., the publishing firm that has the rights to the books and other products, has licensed between 400 and 500 items to carry the image of Raggedy Ann and Andy.
Buyers and sales personnel for two downtown Minneapolis department stores say that the sales of Raggedy Ann and Andy items are steady. And a third store reports that its selection of such items increases every year.
Their fans can find the smiling dolls on bed sheets, light switch plates, candles, music boxes, eating utensils, laundry bags, sand pails, playing cards, jump ropes, puzzles, records, wristwatches, and even Christmas stockings and ornaments.
Raggedy Ann has changed little in appearance over the years. In the original stories, her heart with the message “I Love You” was candy. Now it is permanently painted on, never to be melted again.
According to a Parade magazine article written on the 50th anniversary of Raggedy Ann, the original doll had soft brown wool hair. Today it is red yarn. But other than those changes, Raggedy Ann is much like the illustrations Gruelle did for his books: black shoes, red and white striped socks, white pantalets, white apron, floral print dress, a wide smile, and snappy button eyes.
Origin of the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls
What were the beginnings for the old rag doll, which was named the classic American folk doll at the United States Pavilion at Canada’s Expo ’67?
There is little written about the history of Raggedy Ann, and what can be found comes from old newspaper articles, a doll-collecting book or two, and publishing magazines.
Gruelle was a political cartoonist and illustrator for newspapers in Indianapolis, Cleveland, and New York City. Although there is some uncertainty as to how Raggedy Ann was born, this account is told most frequently.
One day in 1914, an old rag doll was pulled out of a dusty barrel in the attic. Gruelle repaired its shoe-button eyes, drew on a new face, christened it Raggedy Ann, and presented it to his 12-year-old daughter, Marcella.
In the dedication of “Raggedy Ann Stories” first published in 1918, Gruelle wrote that the doll had belonged to his mother as a child and at the time of the writing was already 59 years old.
How did the Raggedy Ann doll get her name?
The name, Raggedy Ann, apparently is a combination of the titles of two poems by James Whitcomb Riley, a friend of Gruelle’s. The poems were “Little Orphan Annie” and “Raggedy Man.”
The doll was Marcella’s constant companion. When she died two years later at the age of 14, Gruelle kept the rag doll as a remembrance. Inspired by the doll, he started writing the Raggedy Ann stories in which Marcella, the doll’s owner, is a central character.
Raggedy Ann and other dolls in the nursery come to life when Marcella is away or asleep, and the rag doll leads the others in any number of adventures. One account reports that Gruelle wrote the first drafts of the stories in verse, and it was not until he rewrote them in prose in 1918 that they sold.
The original doll apparently was used in a store window display to draw attention to books. Customers started asking where they could buy the doll, and the manufacture of the rag doll began. “Raggedy Andy Stories” followed in 1920.
Just how the old rag doll got the heart with the “I Love You” is not known, but if the story “Raggedy Ann and the Painter” in the book “Raggedy Ann Stories” can be believed, it was during the clean-up after Raggedy Ann fell in a bucket of paint. The person cleaning her put in new cotton stuffing and a candy heart with the message “I Love You.”
Gruelle dedicated that book in 1918 to children and grown-ups who have loved a rag doll. He writes that the dolls are characterized by their kindness, patience, fortitude, honesty, and lovable nature. Gruelle’s stories always have a happy ending.
Worth Gruelle, Miami, Florida, one of the author’s sons, was quoted by Associated Press several years ago that he thinks the gentle nature of the stories is an important part of Raggedy Ann’s appeal.
“My father didn’t like violence,” he said. “Wonderful people are found living inside his monsters, and everything always turns out all right in the end, which of course is the way it should be but it isn’t.”
Connie Adams of Edina, maker of rag dolls, said, “It is the Gruelle ideal that books for children should contain nothing to cause fright, suggest fear, glorify mischief, excuse malice, or condone cruelty. That is why they are often called books good for children.”
The popularity of the dolls themselves, she thinks is partly due to the fact that we have over-sophisticated our children with classes, lessons, and toys like the glamorous dolls with wardrobes and accessories.
“Perhaps the children have rebelled against these and gone back to the old, soft, lovable stuffed Raggedy Ann.” Mrs Adams said children also might identify more readily with the plain dolls than with the glamorous ones.
Diane McLinn, director of the laboratory nursery school at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, said she might see two possible reasons for the doll’s popularity. One, she said, is that they are very soft and cuddly, more in the nature of stuffed animals than dolls.
Ms McLinn thinks that with the nondescript features, a child might more easily invest his own fantasies in that doll rather than the more glamorous type of doll. “Raggedy Ann or Andy can be any kind of person or animal the child wants it to be,” she said.
VINTAGE RAGGEDY ANN PRODUCTS
Antique Raggedy Ann and Andy puzzle (c1930)
Girl in 1956 trying to convince her Raggedy Ann doll to drink ginger ale
Raggedy Ann liked vintage Team flakes cereal (1966)
1970s clothes for girls with Raggedy Ann & Raggedy Andy designs
70s Raggedy Ann and Andy growth chart and shoe holders
Knock-off red-haired rag dolls from 1971
Old Raggedy Ann and Andy needlepoint kits (1972)
Two blue Raggedy Ann sheet sets from the 1970s
Vintage Raggedy Ann & Andy wall stickers (1974)
Vintage 70s Easter card – Raggedy Ann’s Easter Bonnet
1980s Raggedy Ann and Andy Halloween costume patterns
Raggedy Ann loves those Yamaha Pianos (1991)
She sees you: 1990s Raggedy Ann face close-up
This antique Raggedy Ann & Andy set originally included one more doll: Beloved Belindy
Beloved playmates, the very dolls the children have read about. Ann has yarn hair, apron, cotton dress and bloomers. Andy has yarn hair, cap, tie, plaid shirt and overalls. Belindy has bandana cap, two-piece dress and bloomers. Very soft and light. Splendidly made of fine materials. Nothing to break. Our price very special. Usually sells elsewhere for $2.50. $1.95 each.
Beloved Belindy appared in various forms over the years — including in the Raggedy Ann comic book from 1946 shown below — until the character was wisely retired.
We browsed numerous nationwide newspapers, and new versions of the Belindy doll were last seen in closeout sales in 1967.