Rummaging through the books for something historical to celebrate from 1915, basically because I am tired of seeing salutes to historic events that happened after I got out of high school, I learned that a week from today will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the granting of patent number D47,789. It went to a former Illinoisian, born John Barton Gruelle, and has been defended in the courts a number of times in the past century.
The patent holder, who did newspaper cartoons under the name “Grue”, was the son of a painter in what was known as the Hoosier Group. (The family moved to Indiana when John was only two; he had no say in the matter.) The young man was such a confident artist that he was famous for drawing in ink without doing any pencil sketches first.
He was a go-getter, and made enough money through his art to support a family. One day, his daughter, Marcella, was pulling things out of a trunk and took out a beat-up old doll without a face. John quickly drew a face on the head and, thinking of a couple of poems for children he’d read aloud to her lately, said, “Let’s call her Raggedy Ann.”
NOW do you see why patent D47,789 made such a difference to American culture?
The first book did not appear until 1918. The publisher was P.F. Volland, a Chicago publisher started in 1908 by Paul Frederick Volland with an eye to printing beautiful greeting cards. It seemed natural to go into sidelines like calendars and pretty, pretty gift books, and his printing was so much admired that he expanded further into full-sized books. The books for children took off immediately, including something called Quacky Doodles and Danny Daddles, by a cartoonist known as Grue. He used the name Johnny Gruelle for this and, of course, his books about Raggedy Ann.
Dolls of the 1915 design were already available from Volland at that point, made for them, under Johnny Gruelle’s permission, by the Non-Breakable Toy Company. (Later Volland added a factory for the making of Raggedy Ann dolls and other tie-ins. Raggedy Andy, if you were dying to know, came along in 1920.) Although Volland’s other books sold well (and are exceedingly collectible today) it was Raggedy Ann who kept business booming.
There were dolls, cartoons, sewing patterns (so you could make your own Raggedy Ann), Halloween costumes, tea sets, songs (it says here that one of the Raggedy Ann songs was written by a man who later became Secretary of the Treasury AND a character in the books), and all manner of merchandise. Despite the hundred years that have intervened, Raggedy Ann seems to be doing rather well, without the personal troubles experienced by, say, Barbie. Johnny Gruelle went on writing the books for at least twenty years after he died (the name was as good as a trademark, see: the experts I have consulted are not sure who did actually write some of the later books).
It just goes to show what a doll can do if she has heart. If you can fit it into your Labor Day Party, why not raise a glass of Kool-Aid to Raggedy Ann?