The Girl Scouts' cookie sales season starts this week. And while there aren't any new cookies on the roster this year, the scouts are celebrating the 35th anniversary of Samoas -- a caramel-coconut concoction that debuted in a year the organization might otherwise wish to forget.
Girl Scouts have been selling cookies for nearly a century; The American Girl endorsed cookie sales as a fundraiser as early as 1922. While it's unclear which troop sold the first cookies, the national organization was licensing commercial bakers by 1936.
But a glance back at the cookie news of 1975-1976 (sales years are defined by the scholastic calendar) reveals how much the annual tradition has changed since Samoas joined the contemporary line-up of Thin Mints, tea and crackers. That year, sales were marred by feisty cross-county competition, contamination and crime.
According to the FAQ section of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas' website, "Girl Scout Cookies cost $3.50 a package." But the answer wasn't so pat back in 1975, when the scouts of Gaston County, North Carolina waged a price war against their colleagues across the Catawba River. When girls in Mecklenburg County announced they'd sell cookies for $1.25 a box, Gaston County scouts lowered their box price to $1 -- and armed their parents, many of whom worked in Mecklenburg County offices, with order forms. "This has led the parents of some Mecklenburg County Girl Scouts to complain," The Associated Press reported.
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Complaints also surfaced about cookie quality. One of the bakeries that supplies Girl Scout cookies last year issued a recall for its Lemon Chalet Crème cookies, citing oil that could produce an odd odor and off-flavor. Thirty-five years ago, what officials found was more serious still. The Food and Drug Administration in 1975 instructed cookie buyers in eight states not to eat their Thin Mints until "further tests for possible glass contamination" were completed, after an Ohio inspector discovered "glass-like particles" in a single box.
Yet the most serious safety concerns revolved around the door-to-door sales model that was a hallmark of cookie season well into the 1980s. Today, the organization requires adults to "monitor, supervise and guide the sale activities of all age levels." Girl Scouts are required to use the buddy system, and even senior scouts must be supervised by an adult when knocking on doors.
Those guidelines grew out of tragedies like the murder of Marcia Trimble, a Nashville 9-year old whose mutilated body was found on Easter Sunday, 1975, one month after leaving her house to deliver cookies.
"Our city has never been, and never will be, the same again," police Captain Mickey Miller said in 2002.