Oscar Wilde once said that he could resist anything, except temptation. While the playwright may not have been speaking specifically about Girl Scout cookies, his words certainly ring true for anyone who has faced down a box of Samoas in their kitchen.
When your local scout troop starts peddling their sugary wares it’s hard to choose between boxes of Thin Mints, coconut caramel Samoas, shortbread Trefoils, Peanut Butter Patties, or lemony Savannah Smiles. Since it’s impossible to choose just one of the delicious varieties, most of us end up with a snack drawer full of cookies—and a lot of temptation to wrestle with. It’s enough to make you yearn for the good old days when the Girl Scouts of the USA only sold one type of cookie and it was pretty easy to resist.
The first Girl Scout troop to sell cookies to raise funds was back in 1917, just five years after Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in the United States. The Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, hosted a bake sale with just one item on offer—a simple buttery sugar cookie. The recipe was provided by local Scouting director Florence E. Neil and printed in the July 1922 issue of the Girl Scout’s magazine The American Girl (which is not related to the American Girl doll magazine). According to the Girl Scouts, the idea of cookie-based fundraisers spread through the ranks and Neil’s recipe was passed to all 2,000 scouts. The simple recipe was ideal, because the Girl Scouts had to bake the cookies themselves (or ask grandma to do it), before selling them door-to-door in waxed paper bags for 25 to 35 cents per dozen.
Everything changed in 1934 when the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia Council sold the first commercially baked cookies. New York’s Girl Scouts followed suit in 1935, buying a trefoil stamp to use on the box, and soon home-made cookies were a thing of the past when the national Girl Scout organization began using commercial bakers.
Commercial baking meant that Girl Scouts could start selling other options than just the simple sugar cookie. The first iteration of the still-popular Thin Mint (called a Cooky-Mint) appeared in 1939. While there was a cookie-selling hiatus during WWII due to sugar, flour and butter rationing (Girl Scouts sold calendars instead), after the war, the cookies were back. By 1951, Girl Scout Cookies came in three varieties: Sandwich, Shortbread, and Chocolate Mints (the cookie formerly known as a Cooky-Mint), later they added chocolate and vanilla filled cookies and other variety that the local bakers dreamed up.
For years Girl Scout troops had used commercial bakers that were near their home base, which made distribution easy, but meant that there was a lot of changes in quality, variety, and even what was pictured on the box.
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In 1978, Girl Scout HQ decided to streamline the system, licensing four commercial bakeries to ensure quality and packaging. The move meant that for the first time in history, all cookie boxes—regardless of the baker—featured the same designs and all the cookies inside the boxes tasted the same wherever they were purchased. These days there are only two bakers making all of the Girl Scout Cookies sold in the United States. While they are mostly uniform, there are some difference between their products, for instance cookie lovers will get either Do-si-dos or Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Trefoils or Shortbread and Samoas or Caramel deLites, depending on which baker their local council uses. Whichever name is on the box, though, the cookie inside will be delicious—and undoubtedly tempting.