This Week in Illinois History: Raggedy Ann creator Johnny Gruelle born (December 24, 1880)
Looking for a local and last-minute Christmas gift? Look no further than Raggedy Ann. Raggedy Ann was the brainchild of Illinois native Johnny Gruelle. Born in Arcola, Illinois, on December 24, 1880, Gruelle created one of the most popular and endearing characters of the 20th century.
Johnny Gruelle took after his father, a painter, and launched a career as a cartoonist. He gained notice through political cartoons in the Indianapolis Star, which led to nationally syndicated work. He illustrated several fairy tale books before creating his most enduring work, Raggedy Ann, in 1915.
Gruelle patented the Raggedy Ann design and released her as a doll and an illustrated children’s book featuring Raggedy Ann and her friends. The doll’s inspiration remains unknown. Gruelle, always the jokester, often changed the story when asked. He took the name from the titles of two poems by Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley, “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphant Annie.” The latter inspired the entire Little Orphan Annie franchise.
The Raggedy Ann books and dolls became a massive success. Gruelle released over 30 books and introduced new characters, including Raggedy Andy in 1920. Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann books sold over 7 million copies by the time of his death in 1938.
Gruelle’s hometown of Arcola still celebrates its connection to his creations, unveiling a bronze statue of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy in 2016.