The Inside Story of Raggedy Ann, Who Turns 100 Years Old This Week

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Jennifer O'Neill
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Happy 100th birthday, Raggedy Ann. (Photo: Aurora World, Inc.)

Back in 1915, kids’ favorite activities — when they weren’t working in the mines or in textile factories — included shooting marbles, catching 7-cent movies, and playing with Raggedy Ann. And though times have clearly changed, the beloved children’s doll remains strikingly similar today, making the centennial birthday she celebrated on Monday all the more remarkable.

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“Raggedy Ann defies a lot,” Dee Dee Valencia, product manager and unofficial Raggedy Ann expert at Aurora World, Inc., which currently produces the doll, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But one of the things that makes her so beloved is that she’s a part of Americana. In 100 years we’ll probably be celebrating her 200th.”

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The patent for Raggedy Ann. (Photo: U.S. Patent Office)

Who would have dreamed that when artist and writer Johnny Gruelle filed a patent on Sept. 7, 1915, the Illinois native’s “Design for a doll,” which he dubbed “Raggedy Ann,” would remain a household name 10 decades later? “Her essence, and what the illustrator tried to inspire, was all about love, kindness, and good morals,” Valencia says. “And that’s what we’re all still trying to spread.”

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Johnny Gruelle (Photo: Courtesy of the Gruelle Family)

But the road to, well, rags wasn’t without some drama along with way — much like the “toyland comes to life ideas” that Valencia says Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann book series reveals as Ann and her friends experience their “fantasy world adventures.”

As the story goes, Gruelle’s daughter, Marcella, found a doll in her grandmother’s attic that instantly sparked the illustrator’s creativity. “She found this doll all ragged and torn up,” says Valencia. “So he fixed her up, painted a face on her, and thought, ‘Marcella loves this doll so much, maybe there’s some magic here.’”

Only Marcela never got to celebrate the success of her favorite lovey. Before her father had secured the patent for the doll, Valencia says, the 13-year-old died of “complications from a vaccine,” which historians have reported was for smallpox. The artist moved forward with the plush — for his little girl. “That love,” says Valencia, “was a lot of what Johnny brought to life in Raggedy.”

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(Photo: Johnny Gruelle/Simon & Schuster)

And people certainly responded. Two years after signing on with publisher P.F. Volland, Gruelle introduced Raggedy Ann Stories in 1918 and wrote one new book a year for 20 years after that. In 1920, Gruelle gave Ann a jauntily dressed brother, Raggedy Andy, introduced in Raggedy Andy Stories. (Four different companies produced the duo of dolls from 1934 through 2012, when current toymaker Aurora World took up the torch). Gruelle’s sons also carried on his legacy after the creator passed away from a heart attack in 1938. “His sons,” says Valencia, “were two beautiful artists as well.”

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(Photo: Corbis Images)

But it wasn’t until 1997 that Raggedy Ann truly became an icon — with her own U.S. postage stamp. Her status was later cemented in 2002, when the doll was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Raggedy Andy, of course, followed in her footsteps, earning his spot in the hall of fame five years later.

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(Photo: U.S. Postal Service)

“What’s really interesting is that today, the value of the dolls out there in the collectible market is up to $5,000 each,” says Valencia. “It shows that there are people who really treasure the wonderful memories of this doll.” And new fans can collect their own special-edition versions rolling out throughout this milestone year for Raggedy Ann and Andy.

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(Photo: Aurora World, Inc.)

Aurora World’s first original version is the Stars and Stripes Raggedy Ann and Andy design. Traditionalists need not fret, though: Raggedy Ann will still have her signature “I love you” embroidered on her heart. “It’s been said that she was actually the original doll with the heart,” says Valencia. And it’s served her well for 100 years, after all.

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