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Every year when the Girl Scouts start selling cookies, it’s a delight to break into a box of what we know as the typical flavors of Samoas, Tagalongs, or Trefoil shortbread cookies. But, there was a time when the flavors of the cookies weren’t so standard. And, you might be surprised to learn that Girl Scout cookies go all the way back to World War I.

girl scout 1917
Via: Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

The Girl Scouts were started by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912. In 1917 as the US entered WWI, Girl Scouts tended to emergency war gardens, the victory gardens of the era. The conservation of food at home so that troops on the frontlines could have plenty was a common theme of era, with government posters and food drives aimed at making sure the boys in Europe were well fed.

In addition to growing vegetables the Girl Scouts were also involved in canning said produce and selling those canned goods to raise funds for the military, something Boy Scouts did as well.

Girl Scouts emergency war garden 1917
Via: Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

In 1917 the Girl Scouts also began selling sugar cookies made at home with their mothers and wrapped up with wax paper. The money went towards soldiers and this trend continued after the war, with homemade cookies made by scouts sold by men in unifirm to raise money for their welfare.

By 1922 the Girl Scouts had an official recipe for the mothers and daughters to follow. The original recipe called for the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup of butter, or substitute
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
sugar cookies stacked up
Via: Sheena Wood/Pexels

The directions were of-the-time, calling for a “quick” oven, meaning about 375˚F in modern terminology, “Cream butter and sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, flavoring, flour, and baking powder. Roll thin and bake in quick oven. Sprinkle sugar on top. This amount makes six to seven dozen.”

By 1934 the first commercially-made cookies were sold by a troop in Philadelphia.

girls scouts with boxes of cookies 1959
Via: Tallahassee Democrat/State Archives of Florida

Over the years Girl Scout cookies have become an American tradition- one that many people look forward to each cookie “season”. While there are now many imitations out there, nothing truly compares to the recipes that the Girl Scouts have developed over the decades. And, today the money made from the sale of these cookies goes right back to the Girl Scouts, but it’s fascinating to learn about the wartime history of these famed cookies.

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