This month, the 2.3 million Girl Scouts across the United States will begin taking orders for some 200 million boxes of Thin Mints, Tagalongs and more as they launch their annual Girl Scout cookie sale. A considerable source of funding for troop activities, the sales are also an important learning opportunity in the spirit of the Girl Scout organization, helping the girls develop valuable business and marketing skills.
On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low called together 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia, for the first meeting of the Girl Scouts. Low, who had always played sports and had an interest in the arts since she was a child, wanted to encourage girls to get out of the house and be active in order to promote physical and mental development. Girl Scouting took off and soon spread throughout the United States, with local troops taking part in service projects to finance their activities. In 1917, the Girl Scouts of Muskogee, Oklahoma, also known as the Mistletoe Troop, decided to sell cookies in a local high school cafeteria to raise money for their club, unofficially launching the tradition of Girl Scouts cookie sales.
In July 1922, Chicago’s local Girl Scout director Florence E. Neil wrote an article for the organization’s national magazine, The American Girl, in which she included a cost-efficient cookie recipe for girls to use for their baked goods sales. The ingredients for the recipe would cost 26 to 36 cents and would yield up to seven dozen cookies; the cookies could then be sold for 25 to 30 cents per dozen. Gradually these cookie sales evolved from girls baking in their kitchens at home to an enormous commercial enterprise. The organization licensed their first commercial baker in 1936 to accommodate the nationwide sale of Girl Scout cookies. By the end of the 1940s, the Girl Scouts were employing nearly 30 commercial bakers for their cookie sales, and by 1951 they offered three tasty options: Peanut Butter Sandwich (Do-si-dos), Shortbread (Trefoils) and Chocolate Mints, now called Thin Mints.
Today, Girl Scout cookie production is handled by just two bakers, ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers, in order to maintain consistency. Each baker produces eight cookie varieties. The selection varies each year–for instance, in 2012 they introduced “Savannah Smiles” to honor the 100th anniversary of Low’s first Girl Scout meeting–but they are always required but bake the original three flavors. Though the cookies themselves are the same around the country, their names—with the exception of Thin Mints—vary depending on which bakery they come from. So if you’re looking for a tasty coconut-covered treat and your local troop gets its cookies from Little Brownie Bakers, you’ll be snacking on a Samoa, but if they order their treats from ABC Bakers, you’ll be enjoying a Caramel deLite. Though their names may get shaken up, they still represent the same hard work and tradition that enterprising young scouts have enjoyed for nearly a century.