Creation of American Girl
Pleasant Rowland gave two reasons for creating the line. The original reason was to fill an empty space in the doll market of the time. The majority of dolls for girls came in two general age ranges: young infant and child dolls that led to childcare and parental-focused play, and teenage or adult-aged dolls such as Barbie that served as a beauty image, inspired fashion play and offered older aspiration for girls. There was no doll that was shown near a young girl's age of about eight to twelve years old -- an age when many girls would crave dolls and doll play. A doll that was not vastly older or younger than the girl playing with her could serve as a companion or playmate character.
The second reason -- and thus the reason for the initial focus of the line -- was to show history from a more personal viewpoint: that of young girls in the same age range of eight to twelve. This would serve to show that while times, fashions, and technology had changed, the pastimes and emotions of young girls had not. Ms. Rowland said that she was originally inspired to immerse children in history by the atmosphere of colonial Williamsburg. However, Felicity Merriman, who lived in that area and time, did not come out until 1991, five years after the launch of the company.
Launch of Pleasant Company and Personal History
In 1986, the line launched with Kirsten Larson, Samantha Parkington and Molly McIntire. Over the years, Ms, Rowland remained primary owner of the company and led developments of other Historical Characters, as well as the American Girl of Today, Our New Baby and Bitty Baby lines.
In 1998, Ms. Rowland sold the company to Mattel for 700 million dollars. She remained on the board as an advisor until 2000, when she broke away from the company completely and gave full rights to Mattel.
The Trunk on the Catalogue
On the earliest American Girl catalogues, the following paragraph was written on the back:
“Deep in the basement of a small museum lies a tattered, water-stained doll trunk. Open the dusty lid and the long-ago childhood of some lucky young girl comes instantly to life.
Tucked gently inside is a beautiful porcelain doll — dearly loved and much played with. Dressed in blue silk and surrounded by marvelous accessories, this doll and her tiny treasures were the cherished possessions of their owner — possessions so special that they were put away until some faraway day when her own little girl could delight in them.
I discovered this trunk by chance more than a year after I had begun working on the American Girls Collection. It served as a powerful reminder of why I had begun the collection, and what I hoped it would accomplish.
At an age when girls are old enough to read and still love to play, they need books and dolls that capture their imaginations. The stories in the American Girls Collection come alive with beautiful dolls and period doll clothes. The doll accessories are replicas of real things found in times gone by. They are quality pieces — not plastic playthings — and are made for children over eight years old to treasure.
I hope the American Girls Collection will be dearly loved and well played with and then passed down to other generations of girls tomorrow — a reminder that growing up in America is, has been, and can always be an experience to treasure.”
– Pleasant T. Rowland
However, the story written around this doll and image is false. The doll was purchased for Sybil Hanks (born 1908) by her parents and named "Nancy Hanks." She was kept in pristine condition and never played with before being donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1966 along with her entire collection. The doll, when used for the image, was placed with a water-stained trunk to convey an image of "well played" and worn by Ms. Rowland. 
After selling American Girl, Ms. Rowland moved into Aurora, NY, and began to remodel the town with her own funds to make it more like pre-industrial days. In exchange she promised to help revive the town. However, she has not been well received. Many of the residents there feel that she is attempting to make the town into more of a tourist attraction and remodel it into her version of history, instead of helping to acknowledge the already rich history of the town, and that renovations are not only too quick, they are inaccurate and displeasing. One example cited by the Aurora Coalition:
Billionaire developer Pleasant Rowland then fully gutted the remarkably intact 1833 Aurora Inn and altered all of its historic exterior. Her project, opposed by the State Historic Preservation Office, also demolished an adjacent 1929 store in order to build a large incompatible addition to her phony "ye olde" inn.
It is also said that she is inaccessible at times and has not fulfilled promises made.