Raggedy Ann is a fictional character created by John Barton "Johnny" Gruelle (1880 - 1938), a comic strip writer and artist. He had achieved some fame for the comic strip "Mr. Twee Deedle" (1911 - 1914). But there was a problem at home by 1914. His daughter Marcella Gruelle (1902 - 1915) had grown increasingly sick after receiving smallpox vaccination at school. What went wrong is uncertain. The Gruelles believed it was an aftereffect of the vaccination and would become active in the anti-vaccination movement in later years. Defenders of the vaccination system suggested the problem was caused by a congenital heart defect and the vaccination incident was irrelevant. Whatever the true cause of the health problems was, Johnny was searching for ways to cheer up his daughter during her expected recovery period. Retrieving "a dusty, faceless rag doll" once belonging to his parents from the attic, Johnny painted a new face for it and offered it to Marcella.
The name Raggedy Ann was inspired by the poems "The Raggedy Man" and " Little Orphan Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley (1849 - 1916). Marcella was delighted by the doll and even more delighted by the fictional stories narrated to her by her father. Stories with the doll as their protagonist. Figuring that whatever appealed to Marcella might appeal to other children, Johnny converted some of the stories to comic strip form. With Raggedy Ann sufficiently well-received by the public, Johnny started considering marketing a toy line based on her. He received the necessary patent in November, 1915. That same month Marcella died.
The toy line was a success and would stay in production for decades. Gruelle then turned his attention to writing a children's book starring Ann. The result was "Raggedy Ann Stories" (1918), a success in its field. Also introduced with it was a fictional version of Marcella, ensuring Marcella would live on as a literary figure. The book was followed by " Raggedy Andy Stories" (1920), introducing Ann's brother and new co-star. These were only the first two books of a long-running series. While Gruelle died in 1938, new books kept being published under his name for decades. Altogether, 45 Raggedy Ann books were published between 1918 and 1977. Though there was a decade-long hiatus between 1961 and 1971.
Raggedy Ann was among several characters licensed by the Fleischer Studio for adaptation into cartoon shorts. She debuted in " Raggedy Ann & Raggedy Andy" (1941) but was not a noticeable hit. The Studio was taken over by Paramount Pictures and converted to "Famous Studios" in 1942. Famous produced two more shorts in the Raggedy Ann series: "Suddenly It's Spring" (1944) and "The Enchanted Square" (1947). Then the series terminated, having never achieved the success of Fleischer and Famous' most famous licensed character, Popeye.
Dell Comics also licensed the character for comic book appearances. She first appeared in " New Funnies" #65-111 (July, 1942 - May, 1946). She also appeared in some issues of Four Color Comics. She was granted her own series in 1946. It lasted to 1955 and was accompanied by a number of specials. Dell revived her series from 1964 to 1966. Gold Key published reprints of the series from 1971 to 1973. Making Ann a much more enduring character in comic books than she ever was in animation.
Raggedy Ann and her supporting cast starred in their own animated feature film in 1977, Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure. The film was produced by the Bobs-Merril Company, a book publisher attempting to expand at animation. The film was released by 20th Century Fox. The film was a box office failure while critics pointed to its weak characterization. Particularly of its protagonists as Ann and Andy actually received less development than most of the new characters introduced. Bobs-Merril next assigned Chuck Jones Enterprises to work on two television specials starring Ann. The final results were "Raggedy Ann and Andy in the Great Santa Claus Caper" (1978) and "Raggedy Ann and Andy in: The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile" (1979). While better received by television audiences than their cinematic predecessor, there was no effort for a continuation to the series.
CBS Animation next worked on an adaptation of Ann and her supporting cast to an animated television series, "The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy". The series debuted in 1988 and lasted to 1990. Reruns were broadcast in 1991 and 1992. Neither an outstanding hit nor a complete failure, the series has so far been the last effort to adapt Ann to any medium other than the toy. Its release on DVD a decade later has somewhat renewed interest in it. But again Ann doesn't stand out among the major characters of the medium.