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Johnny Gruelle and the story of Raggedy Ann

Play with Raggedy Anne!

Play with Raggedy Anne!

John Barton (Johnny) Gruelle

Johnny Gruelle was an American illustrator, caricaturist, cartoonist, writer, songwriter (!) and creator of a popular doll Raggedy Ann which was for some time also a symbol in a movement against vaccination.

He was a man of many talents but most of all he was a terrific storyteller with ability to present a story with only few words, few sentences or short series of drawings, all with intention to bring some humor and light in lives of everybody around him. But who really was Johnny Gruelle and what is the bitter sweet story behind the doll of Raggedy Ann?

(All images on this page are made by John B. Gruelle and are in public domain based on author + 70 years, sources:, and, all images edited by me)

Gruelle's Illustration from The Bam Bam Clock

Gruelle's Illustration from The Bam Bam Clock

Versatility was of one of his strongest points. He was able to draw for children of all ages and for grown ups as well. His style varies from project to project, but his skill is obvious in all of them.

Raggedy Ann, vintage picture by Johnny B. Gruelle

Raggedy Ann, vintage picture by Johnny B. Gruelle

Meet the doll and her friends!

Yes, this is legendar, the one and only Raggedy Ann, sometimes called Raggedy Anne, as we are used too. With red hair, big black eyes and a nonstop smile:)

After all these years she is still adorable!

Illustration from Nobody's Boy

Illustration from Nobody's Boy

Short biography

John Barton Gruelle was born on Christmas Eve 1880 to Richard and Alice. Richard was of French origin, his ancestors' surnames were Beauchamp and Grouvelle, but these foreign and relatively long words were simplified and shortened until they changed in Buckner and Gruelle.

Richard, Johnny's father was a self thought landscape painter with many friends from the world of art. One of them was poet James Whitcomb Riley, a regular visitor of Gruelle's family.

The other was Thomas, Richard's older brother, who was successful in printing and newspaper business. Art and journalism made huge influence on young Johnny and pretty much determined his life path. With this mixed knowledge he also got few basic skills from another important area - business, what definitely helped him at establishing the business behind the popular doll.

Illustration from Nobody's Boy

Illustration from Nobody's Boy

Being surrounded with talented people and optimism he believed all can be achieved if he only pursue his dreams. Johnny Gruelle loved to doodle from early age and he was still a teenager when he started to think about the possibilities to earn a living with his drawings.

The big opportunity came in spring 1903 when first issues of Indianapolis Star were offered in Johnny's hometown. He already had a reputation of reliable, diligent and creative illustrator with experience at several magazines and newspapers.

Johnny was chosen from many other cartoonists and became first assistant illustrator. He created hundreds of humorous cartoons and caricatures and few of them are displayed in the next gallery.

As we can see the caricatures of local politicians, businessmen and other personalities were almost always combined with fictional or semi-fictional characters made by Johnny's imagination.

His picture of Jim Crow (later renamed to Joe Crow) at first served as a weather bird on front page but later became widely recognized sign of the Star. Please don't confuse Gruelle's Jim Crow with Johnny Crow by Leslie Brooke!

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We can also see the (officially called) nice fat policeman (after real officer McGinty) and several dolls created after other real people from Johnny's life. There is no clear line between reality and fiction in his work - everything what came up to his mind, being seen or imagined, could serve the purpose of creating fresh and entertaining stories.

Top skilled illustrator in high demand!

Rapunzel, illustration by Johnny Gruelle

Rapunzel, illustration by Johnny Gruelle

John Barton Gruelle was always looking for new jobs, new skills and new opportunities. Winning a contest at The New York Herald among 1.500 other cartoonists in 1911 was indeed major achievement, but still only one of milestones in his shiny career. At the same time he started to illustrate books for children. Even more - he was writing stories for children too!

The illustration above is probably Gruelle's most famous from 'classic' works. This is of course scene from Rapunzel, with a prince waiting for her legendary flock of hair, but in the book of Fairy Tales by brothers Grimm there were only two more of his illustrations. His real legacy lies in the stories about Raggedy Ann.

Picture of Marcella and Raggedy Ann

Picture of Marcella and Raggedy Ann

Who is Raggedy Ann?

Johnny became a father to daughter named Marcella. He found an old doll in the attic. It was so old and dirty her face was invisible but it was also full of memories because the doll once belonged to John's mother Alice.

So he cleaned the doll, drawn her a face and named her Raggedy Ann as a mix of two songs of family friend James Whitcomb Riley (Raggedy Man and Little Orphan Annie). Despite his wild imagination he probably couldn't imagine how popular can a doll with so simplified face become. But sometimes simple solutions are the best ones!

The Ragged Andy

The Ragged Andy

The tragedy of Marcella

Marcella loved the doll so much her father eventually decided to try with production of a toy named Raggedy Ann (not Anne!). Unfortunately above the same time Marcella died due complications after vaccination and we'll never know what caused her premature death (she was only 13).

Her parents believed the vaccination (given without parents' approval) was the reason and Raggedy Ann became important symbol of anti-vaccination movement.

The production of the doll proved great success. It was supported with series of books about Raggedy Ann (more than three million copies sold in John's lifetime) who got a brother Raggedy Andy and many many friends.

How Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy met?

Raggedy Anne is not only a vintage doll or a story about successful use of one idea in many business areas. It is above all an hommage of an inspired father to his daughter which died way too young and the memory of her will live for many years.

Illustration from Raggedy Andy Stories

Illustration from Raggedy Andy Stories

Although Marcella had two brothers (Worth and Richard) it is pretty obvious the character of Raggedy Andy was designed after the character of creator himself.

John B. Gruelle, man who brought so much sunshine in so many lives died after heart attack (he had problems with heart for years) in 1838 but his amazing storytelling talent and kind humor are here to stay. Hopefully for many generations!

Illustration from My Own Fairy Stories

Illustration from My Own Fairy Stories

Do you prefer Johnny Gruelle as a cartoonist, illustrator, writer or something else?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 21, 2015:

Thank you, TreasuresBrenda, I appreciate that!

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on January 20, 2015:

Funny, I just realized that I knew nothing about Raggedy Ann's creator. Sharing your page on Pinterest.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on January 02, 2014:

@WriterJanis2: There are so many great ones, right?

WriterJanis2 on December 30, 2013:

He's good, but there are others I prefer.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 01, 2013:

@GregoryMoore: Thanks!

Gregory Moore from Louisville, KY on June 30, 2013:

My sister had Reggedy Anne and I had Andy when we were kids. I never knew anything about their creator though. Well done!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on June 17, 2013:

@Melissa Miotke: Sometimes the back story is even more interesting than the original story. Thanks for your visit!

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on June 17, 2013:

I had a Raggedy Anne growing up but I didn't know any of her history. Very interesting!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on June 12, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Thanks:)

WriterJanis2 on June 11, 2013:

Returning to pin this.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 07, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Well, now you know:)

WriterJanis2 on May 05, 2013:

I knew of Raggedy Anne as a doll, but didn't know there was a story behind it.

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