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About Annalee Thorndike


Annalee Thorndike
1915- 2002
Annalee died Sunday, April 7th, 2002 at her home in Meredith, NH

Annalee Artist Dolls



I never played 'house' with dolls," recalls Annalee Thorndike of her early years in New Hampshire. "I just made clothes." Following in her mother's footsteps, young Annalee became accomplished with a needle and thread, and by the time she graduated from high school in 1933, she was making wonderful little puppets and dolls.

Money was scarce during those days of the Great Depression, and Annalee - by her own admission - was never much of a student. Nor did she relish the thought of working 9 to 5 in an office! So she began making dolls to sell through the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen in order to "cough up some money to help out at home." Folks around her hometown of Concord were enthusiastic. As Annalee recalls, "My friends wouldn't leave me alone! They kept knocking on my door and saying, 'I have an idea for a doll,' or 'I know where I can get skis for your dolls.' Orders poured in and Annalee developed quite a growing business with very little marketing.

When she married Charles "Chip" Thorndike in 1941, Annalee put her doll making aside to become the wife of a chicken farmer and mother to sons Chuck and Townsend. Like Annalee, Chip disdained the suit-and-tie work world - even though he was the Harvard-educated son of a prominent Boston surgeon. He designed the wire frames that give Annalee's dolls their "Mobilitee."The couple's original chicken farm and auto parts yard now serves as the site of Annalee Mobilitee's "Factory in the Woods" in Meredith, NH.

The chicken business faltered in the early 1950s, and once again Annalee felt a calling to bring some money into the family coffers. She re-started her doll business in earnest, working from home. Remembering those fledgling days, she chuckles, "There were dolls everywhere, even in the bathroom!" From a "work force" of one paid laborer to a payroll of over 350 fine craftspeople, Annalee Mobilitee has grown into one of the nation's most honored doll firms. Annalee's own lively, "can-do" spirit shines through in all the bright-eyed dolls she and her staff create. From Santas to mice to bunnies and the beloved "Logo Kids," these felt-and-wire characters all meet their creator's stated goal: "To make people smile!"

Annalee's Story
written by the Museum of New Hampshire History

An exhibition celebrating Annalee Davis Thorndike's gift of dolls and personal memorabilia to the New Hampshire Historical Society was on view at the Museum of New Hampshire History from July 22, 2000, to November 4, 2001. The exhibition focused on her early career and work promoting New Hampshire tourism.

The Dolls of Annalee was sponsored by the law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton.


Annalee Davis Thorndike is an important New Hampshire businesswoman and entrepreneur who built a home craft business in Meredith into a national company. Born in Concord, NH, in 1915, Annalee Davis Thorndike pursued her interest in art by making dolls. Her first creations were marionettes, then she began making cloth dolls. Children of the era typically played with cloth dolls with changeable clothes. Thorndike was not making toys, however. From the beginning, her dolls were in set positions, with the clothes sewed onto the doll. These were dolls for display, each with a story to tell. She began selling the dolls through the New Hampshire League of Arts and Crafts, which later would become the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. As the Great Depression progressed, she created new dolls with varied materials. During the 1930s Annalee began making her popular skier dolls.

In 1941 Annalee married Charles "Chip" Thorndike, the son of a Boston physician. Chip had become a chicken farmer in Meredith. Chip and Annalee worked on the farm through the 1940s and 1950s, until poultry farming was no longer profitable in New Hampshire. Needing another way to make a living, Annalee returned to making dolls. She started in the kitchen of her Meredith farmhouse, helped by local women. Soon every corner of the house was taken over with doll parts. Thorndike not only employed several women in her home, she took work out to be completed in other women's homes. Her husband Chip created clever wooden components for the dolls, including skis, ski poles, and little boats. It was Chip who designed the wire frame that held the dolls in position. The doll business was incorporated in 1955 as Annalee Mobilitee Dolls.

Annalee's dolls from the 1950s appeared in promotions in Manchester and Boston store windows. The State of New Hampshire hired Annalee to create dozens of dolls to help promote tourism. Annalee dolls that were skiing, fishing, and hunting highlighted New Hampshire attractions at the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass., and at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

The success of the promotional programs launched the popularity of Annalee Dolls. By 1960, the dolls were being sold to retail outlets in forty states, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The company was by then a major Lakes Region business. In 1964, Thorndike moved the operation out of her house and into a "factory in the woods." It has expanded several times since then.

The individual Annalee dolls document hairstyles and dress of the times, creating a lasting statement about life in New Hampshire since World War II. The exhibition reflected Thorndike's artistic talent, hard work, and shrewd business sense. The display chronicled her experiences building a small home-based craft industry into a manufacturer of national importance, in the process telling a remarkable Yankee success story of perseverance and creativity.

Additional information about the Annalee Mobilitee Doll  Company

Annalee Mobilitee Dolls Inc. is located in Meredith, New Hampshire. All Annalee Dolls are designed at the company location in Meredith, NH. The company was founded by Barbara Annalee Thorndike who died in the year 2002. At one time the company covered over 14 acres of land including 7 buildings. The company’s annual sales reached $15,000,000 and provided jobs to over 300 employees. The Annalee Doll was dubbed to be "the most famous manufactured item to come from New Hampshire in the 20th century is the Annalee doll." by R. Stuart Wallace. By the year 2006 the company had scaled the size of its operations dramatically down. In the year 2008 the company closed its Annalee Doll museum and sold its Meredith factory.  Sue Coffee was proud to have the opportunity to purchase a large portion of the Annalee Museum Doll collection.

Barbara Annalee Davis was born in the year 1915 and raised in Concord, NH. With an interest in puppetry as a young girl, Annalee and a friend began creating dolls. As time went on Annalee’s friend began to lose interest and moved off to college.  Annalee continued to create dolls and began selling them at the “League of new Hampshire Craftsmen”.  She eventually moved to Boston where she continued to sell her dolls. In the year 1941 Annalee metCharles “Chip” Thorndike. Chip and Annalee got married and they moved to Meredith New Hampshire where they raised a family.  After awhile Annalee continued with her doll making ambitions and with the help of her husband “chip” they manufactured a small line of skier dolls.

The line was success and Annalee’s business began to take off!  In the year 1951 Annalee Mobilitee Dolls was incorporated into a company. During the 1950s, stores in Manchester and Boston began to purchase the dolls for decorating the store windows. The Annalee Dolls were also purchased by the state of New Hampshire to be used in tourist material. Other states soon followed New Hampshire in using the dolls in promotional material.  These promotional dolls were so popular that by the year 1960 Annalee dolls were being sold in over 40 states including Canada and Puerto Rico. By the mid 1960s, the size of Annalee and Chuck’s doll making business became too big for the Thorndike’s house.  The Thorndike’s decided it was time to move their operations into a “Factory in the Woods”.  Over time the little Factory in the Woods began to develop  into a larger operation. At the peak of the Annalee Doll popularity, the company covered over 14 acres of land and included 7 buildings.

 In the year 1975 the Annalee doll name got a huge promotion when a New Hampshire state legislator gave the president at the time Gerald Ford a collection of dolls to decorate the white house Christmas tree with.  In the year 1990 Annalee Dolls became the headgear sponsor for Christopher Peterson, a member of the United States Ski Team. The Annalee logo was placed on all of his headgear and in exchange the company sold a special “Victory Ski Doll” of which five percent of the sales went to the US ski team. In the year 1992 Annalee and Chip gave each of their sons, Townsend and Charles (Chuck), 48 percent of the Annalee Doll Company and Chuck soon took over everyday operations of Annalee Dolls.

By the late 1990s the market for collectibles began to fall and outsourcing began to become a common practice in the manufacturing industry. In the year 2002 all construction of Annalee dolls and accessories was outsourced oversees. The design and marketing operations stayed in Meredith, NH which it still is to current day.  On Sunday, April 7th, 2002 Annalee Thorndike died at age 87.

In 2008 after a string of lawsuits between the 2 sons of Annalee Thorndike over ownership of the company, Annalee Dolls was bought by David Pelletier, Bob Watson, and the Imagine Company of Hong Kong which is the company that manufactures the dolls. The same year the new ownership of the company decided to sell the famous “Factory in the Woods”.

The Annalee Doll

Annalee dolls are durable and bendable due to wire construction, but have a soft felt body on the outside. Each doll has a painted face that is similar in resemblance to Annalee Thorndike. Annalee dolls range in size from a few inches up to 6 feet tall. The dolls range in theme from Christmas characters such as elves to animals and other fantacy characters. In the original construction of the dolls, Chip Thorndike would make the wire frames while Annalee would sew and paint the dolls. Chip also would create small wooden props to match the theme. Starting in the fall of 1986 the label sewn onto each doll began to include the year the doll was made.

As the company grew Annalee and Chip Thorndike quickly realized they needed to hire help to assist in making the dolls. Since 2002 the manufacturing of all Annalee dolls was outsourced oversees. To date the design of the dolls are inspired by Annalee's original doll designs. In the year 1992 at the annual Annalee Doll Society Auction, a 10 inch tall Halloween girl doll created in the 1950s was sold for a record $6,000.

From the Annalee Web Site:
In one way, the tale begins with a young woman’s meticulous dyeing of felt fabric and freehand painting of doll faces during the Depression. In another, it starts daily in a design room, a short stroll from Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, NH. Either way this is a once-upon-a time story of a doll making cottage industry making it big; nationally big. But this story is different because this one is infused with magic; a very special magic which is uniquely Annalee. Annalee and husband Chip Thorndike lived on a New Hampshire chicken farm. The chicken farm failed in the early 1950’s and it was then that Annalee was forced to really get serious about her childhood hobby, doll making with a dash of Yankee influence. So the old chicken coop became a design room, Chip became a salesman, and Annalee a doll maker. She fashioned her creations directly from the activities of her two sons who were always skiing, swimming or otherwise engaged in what children do best. There is no doubt that this is why Annalee picked more than one mischievous, whimsical face for each of her doll creations.

Today, the dolls that Annalee’s design associates create reflect not only easier times, but also Annalee’s sense of human nature - and humor. The ideas emerged, she says, from “research and reading.” By the 1980’s the company started to focus more and more on the holiday seasons, after all, this is when people really share how much they care for each other. Whether a Christmas elf or an Easter frog, one characteristic threads itself through the entire family of dolls. “It’s the positive-ness of the face,” says their creator. “It’s the smile. If you smile, someone else has got to smile back.” Then, she adds, “you have to have the action and the humor - the flexibility and the wit that goes along with it.” Flexibility and wit happen to go along with the production of these whimsical felt-and-wire personalities. It is the wire frame that gives these dolls their personality, allowing our artists and you the opportunity to position them in a way that speaks to each one of us. Annalee dolls have a lightness of heart that fits into any setting.

Take a look at Annalee’s creations and there’s something special right in front of you. Sure her dolls are full of character and whimsy, but the thread that binds them together as an ‘Annalee’ is that each and every one of them energetically celebrates some aspect of life itself - life at its very best.