February is beginning, and with it, cookie season! The annual girl scout fundraiser that takes place across America has been going on since 1917. This tradition has come to define the Girl Scouts of America in the eyes of the public– I’ve found that, regardless of the time of year, I can’t walk anywhere public in uniform without people demanding Thin Mints or Samoas. However, it seems that very few people know how it is that GS cookies came about. So, for all you non-girl scouts out there, here’s how your favorite cookies became household names (and yes, this is a shameless advertising stunt).
As stated earlier, the first GS cookie sales took place in 1917, five years after Juliette Gordon Low founded the organization in America. An Oklahoma troop decided to bake and sell sugar cookies at their high school cafeteria in order to raise funds for a service project. The idea caught on with other troops, who began baking cookies themselves and selling them door-to-door for 25-30 cents per dozen. In July 1922, a scout leader named Florence E. Neil published a shortbread cookie recipe which would eventually evolve into the present day Trefoils. The simple recipe’s ingredients were very cheap, allowing for maximum profits, and soon enough the Girl Scout’s main source of funds came from cookie sales.
In 1935, the Girl Scout Federation of Greater New York was the first local GS council to license a commercial baker for their cookies. A year later, the National Girl Scout Organization (later GSA) licensed commercial bakers nationwide. At least 125 local councils participated in this new method of selling, with that number increasing steadily throughout the thirties. However, sales did come to a halt during World War II, as sugar, flour, and butter shortages prevented widespread baking. Scouts sold GS calendars during this period instead (yes, GS calendars are a thing). Once the war ended, Girl Scouts returned to cookies, and sales skyrocketed past pre-war profits. Today, GSA sells 200 million boxes per year.
During the fifties, three main types of cookies were established: sandwich cookies (now Do-Si-Do’s), shortbread (now Trefoils), and chocolate mints (now Thin Mints). Different flavors began to evolve, as bakers began to create their own types of cookies as well as the originals. One of today’s favorites, the caramel and coconut Samoa, was added in 1975. Slowly, the number of licensed bakers streamlined until 1979, when only four were used; this was done to make uniform packaging easier. GSA began rewarding special cookie badges to scouts who participated in the fundraiser, and in 2000, Daisy Scouts, the youngest level of Girl Scouts, were allowed to sell for the first time as well.
Today, there are two licensed bakers manufacturing eight types of Girl Scout cookies: Trefoils, Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs, Savannah Smiles, Samoas, Toffee-Tastics, and S’mores (some regions have other variations, but those are the main eight). 2017 marked the 100th year of cookie sales. In that time, different cookies have come and gone, some fading into obscurity (anybody remember the Mango Cremes? No? Just me?) and some becoming so famous that they spawned ice cream flavors. But one thing is for sure: they are all delicious, and all totally worth $5 a box (sorry, but as a girl scout I’m legally required to say that).
Information for this article came from girlscouts.org