Girl Scouts are synonymous with cookies—and they should be. With $800 million in annual sales, and all the proceeds going back to local councils and troops, Girl Scout cookies are big business. But their beginnings are much humbler than you might expect. Here are some things you might not have known about your favorite Girl Scout cookies.
1. The first Girl Scout cookies were homemade.
In 1917, five years after the founding of the Girl Scouts, the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, baked and sold cookies to raise money for troop activities. The idea caught on, and in 1922, The American Girl magazine published a simple sugar cookie recipe that troops could sell door to door for $.25 to $.35 per dozen.
2. As demand for Girl Scout cookies grew, troops handed cookie-baking duties over to the professionals.
Is there a badge for Outsourcing? In 1934, the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia became the first to sell professionally baked cookies. Two years later, the national organization licensed the first commercial bakeries to produce their Girl Scout cookies. Today, every single box of Girl Scout cookies comes from either ABC Bakers or Little Brownie Bakers.
3. The two Girl Scout bakeries do things a little differently.
Girl Scout councils choose which bakery supplies their cookies, so your area could have boxes from both ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers on sale. Recipes vary slightly, but the easiest way to figure out the provenance of your Girl Scout cookies is to check the name. Little Brownie Bakers has more creative monikers for four popular cookies: Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, and Trefoils. ABC Bakers calls the same cookies Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, and Shortbread.
4. The only thing that can stop Girl Scout cookie sales is a world war.
Rationing of sugar, flour, and butter during World War II led to a Girl Scout cookie shortage from 1943 to 1945. To raise money, troops collected scrap metal or sold war bonds, until the organization introduced calendar sales in 1944. Fortunately, Girl Scout cookies were back two years later.
5. Thin Mints have a substantial history.
Thin Mints—the top-selling Girl Scout cookie—debuted in 1959, but they go as far back as 1939, with a chocolate-mint progenitor called Cooky-Mints. By 1948, the Girl Scouts had 12 licensed bakeries, and the name vacillated from Cooky-Mints to Chocolate Mint to Thin Mint (note: the singular form) to Cookie Mint (note: the different spelling, singular form, and disappearance of the hyphen) to Chocolate Mint to Thin Mints to Thin Mint to finally ... Thin Mints. Do Thin Mints by any other name taste as sweet? Probably.
6. Samoas, or Caramel deLites, are the second best-selling Girl Scout cookie.
Little Brownie Bakers introduced Samoas in 1975, and they’ve trailed just behind Thin Mints in popularity ever since. The name likely comes from The Independent State of Samoa, then known as Western Samoa, which counts coconut as one of its top exports. Can’t get enough of the chocolate-caramel-coconut cookie? Keebler, a parent company of Little Brownie Bakers, sells a tasty knockoff called Coconut Dreams all year long.
7. The two most popular Girl Scout cookies got cereal spin-offs.
Move over, Cookie Crisp. In 2017, General Mills debuted a limited-edition cereal inspired by Thin Mints and Samoas/Caramel deLites. The cereals were actually healthier than the cookies—with less sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. Maybe that was their downfall: Girl Scout cookie cereal hasn’t been seen on supermarket shelves since 2018.
8. The COVID-19 pandemic might have changed Girl Scout cookie sales forever.
Like all business people, Girl Scout cookie sellers had to pivot in 2020, with socially-distanced selling practices like drive-by and virtual cookie booths, contactless delivery, and even text orders. What’s next? Same-day delivery? Year-round availability? Not likely. Part of the allure of Girl Scout cookies is their limited availability. Besides, in just a few weeks each year, Girls Scouts sell more cookies than Oreo.
9. There’s a new Girl Scout cookie in town, but maybe not your town.
The powers that be at Girl Scouts decided that 2021 called for a new cookie: the Toast-Yay! The cookie is French toast-inspired, with maple and cinnamon flavors and one side covered in icing. Alas, Toast-Yay! is only made by ABC Bakers for now, so it’s not sold by every troop.
10. Girl Scout cookie season was extended for 2021, but you’d better act fast!
Cookie season generally lasts six to eight weeks. But to make up for pandemic setbacks, the Girl Scouts extended the cookie-selling window for community booths to March 21. Get ‘em while they’re boxed!