Minnesota History Museum To Open Exhibit About Minnesota’s Forgotten Answer to Barbie, “Linda Ann Gundersonjorgen”

Photo by Elena Mishlanova

ST. PAUL–The Minnesota History Museum, in anticipation of the premiere of the new Barbie movie, is opening a new exhibit this weekend centered around Minnesota’s long-forgotten answer to the iconic Barbie doll, Tonka Toys’ Linda Ann Gundersonjorgen doll. 

“We’re really excited to introduce this doll to a new generation.” exhibit curator Haley Steffens shared with us. “The Linda Ann Gundersonjorgen doll just had so much, well…she um…you know, she is a part of Minnesota history and I think that it’s so important to remember and celebrate that.”

The doll was developed in 1967 by Tonka Toys’ CEO Herb Arneson as an alternative to what he referred to in an unearthed internal Tonka Toys memo as the “brazen, whoreish and queer-footed” Barbie doll. 

“To be clear, we do not condone or share the views of Herb Arneson,” Minnesota History Museum director Michelle Houghton confirms. “But he and the doll he helped develop are a part of Minnesota’s history, so here we are.” 

The Linda Ann Gundersonjorgen doll was a 17 year-old girl living on a farm in Lino Lakes whose hobbies included ice skating, syrup tapping, and only speaking when spoken to. To compete with the fashion plate Barbie doll, Linda Ann Gundersonjorgen also had her own array of outfits and accessories to choose from. 

“All Linda Ann dolls came with an unremovable felt cap, wool sweater, wool skirt and brown leather steel toed boots. The only part of her outfit that you could change was her coat, which could be taken off to reveal her Spring/Summer outfit which was the same as her Fall/Winter outfit but without the coat” Steffens shared with us. 

The doll’s only two accessories were a metal pail, which Linda Ann used for both milking cows and tapping maples, along with glass bottles of maple syrup and milk, which could be poured into her metal pail. 

Unfortunately, the Linda Ann Gundersonjorgen doll was only in stores for a matter of months and nearly bankrupted Tonka Toys.

“In an effort to compete with the Mod Barbie doll released that same year, Tonka Toys accelerated production on the Linda Ann dolls, creating dolls with little to no uniformity in the face,” Minnesota History Museum archivist Allen Thebe told us. “A lot of them look like if you took the face of the Baby Sinclair puppet from the show Dinosaurs and tried to make it look like a human girl.” 

Sales for the doll also suffered due to Herb Arneson insisting that the doll needed to come with real milk and syrup, which led to twelve recorded hospitalizations and five lawsuits against his company. 

Despite the doll’s checkered past, the Minnesota History Museum is still proud to showcase her legacy. 
“The Linda Ann Gundersonjorgen doll exhibit is a sort of fun trip down Minnesota memory lane” Houghton said, “although she is very, very hard to look at after a while.”