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Cool Things - Sugar Sack Doll

Depression-era doll holding a hoe and smoking a cigar. Her apron is made from a "Jack Frost" sugar bag

When hard times hit, luxuries are few and far between. People make do with what they have at hand. This doll is an example, made from a recycled sugar bag.

During the Great Depression and the early years of World War II, people had to "make do" because resources were limited and materials scarce. Recycling became a popular practice, allowing cash-strapped consumers to have "new" goods without paying extra for them. Items considered luxuries, such as children's dolls, could be made cheaply at home out of second-hand materials.

American companies capitalized on this trend. Before the war years, staples such as flour and sugar were sold in cloth bags, unlike today's paper sacks. The cloth of these bags was tightly woven and wore well, making the bags suitable for reuse. Companies made the most of recycling's popularity by producing cloth with colorful designs and patterns that would appeal to buyers. The National Sugar Refining Company in New Jersey, makers of Jack Frost Cane Sugar, designed their bags with recycling in mind. The bags were assembled from a single piece of cloth that was folded in half and stitched along one side, then stitched closed with string. When a consumer removed the string, the cloth was ready to reuse. View close-up of bag with instructions.

Recycling cloth from flour and sugar bags was more common among people in rural areas where economic hardship often hit hardest. It is not surprising to find homemade items from recycled Jack Frost Sugar (and other company's) bags in Kansas. The diminutive 5 lb. bags of sugar were well suited for making small items, such as dolls.

Although it is unknown why the maker of this doll decided to create a peasant figure, she or he may have been inspired by images from the Kansas Museum Project. This program was a branch of the federal Work Projects Administration (1938-1941), a relief agency created during the Great Depression. The Kansas Museum Project produced a catalog containing images guiding the creation of dolls as visual aids in schools and museums. Many of the images depict people in ethnic dress, and two of the female figures are illustrated smoking pipes.

This doll is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History. The museum's collections also include figures from the WPA Museum Project.

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Entry: Cool Things - Sugar Sack Doll

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2009

Date Modified: September 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.