Museum logo
Museum logo

Object Record

  • Email This Page
  • Send Feedback
Catalog Number 13244-144-(1-11)
Title Doll, Jerri Lee, Cowboy, Chaps, Gauntlets and Vest
Object Name Doll
Description Jerri Lee doll made by the Terri Lee doll company with a wavy brown fur (sheepskin) wig. He has an unpainted body, and a painted face with a pinkish-red mouth and nostrils. He has thin arched eyebrows. He has five painted eyelashes on his left upper eye and three on the right upper eye. The left eye has three lower lashes and the right has two.

He wears a long-sleeved western shirt. The shirt is off-white with a red and black circle and diamond pattern. It has red piping, three plain metal snaps down the front (Dot Snappers) and a printed Terri Lee tag. His pants are blue denim side-snap jeans with red stitching. They have five belt loops and "Gripper Gripper" snaps on each side of the waist; the visible part of each snap is red. He has a leather gun belt with a gold-toned buckle, an embossed overlapping zig-zag design and a gun holster. He wears two-piece brown leather chaps connected by a thin strip of leather tied through a hole at the top inner front of each piece. The chaps area adorned with white leather fringe along the outer edges. The fringe gets gradually longer toward the bottoms of the legs. The chaps are secured by metal snaps and a leather strap around the back of the waist and a leather strap around each leg. He wears a brown leather vest and fringed gauntlets that match the chaps. The vest and the gauntlets are decorated with bronze colored nailhead studs. The vest has a printed Terri Lee tag. He wears a multi-colored felt cowboy hat with a yellow rope lanyard secured by a red wooden bead. The hat is mainly gray/lavender modeled with red and some purple. The words "Made in USA" "100% Wool" "Henry Pollack Inc." "Distributors Fifth Ave NY" are stamped on the inside if the hat. He wears flat-soled brown riding boots with teardrop shaped cutouts.
Year Range from 1952
Year Range to 1962
Material Plastic, sheepskin wig, paint, cotton, leather, wool, oilcloth, metal, wood
Made Terri Lee
Place of Origin USA: California, Apple Valley
Inscription Text TERRI LEE
Height (in) 16
Width (in) 7
Depth (in) 4.5
History Early Apple Valley catalog, 13244-363, shows Jerri in this outfit "Jerri has one costume with real fur chaps, and a western shirt to match mine. He also has another costume with real leather chaps and a western shirt. Jerri wanted to be like the cowboys in the movies, so Mother arranged a play gun in a leather holster for each costume."

The Terri Lee doll company was founded in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1946. The business started as a partnership between Maxine Runci, a sculptor and painter, and her aunt, Violet Gradwohl. Maxine modeled the doll after her toddler aged daughter, Drienne, and the doll was named after Violet's daughter, who was called "Terri Lee." Their relationship deteriorated early in the company's history, and Violet eventually took over the business. The first dolls were produced in the Gradwohl's Lincoln kitchen, and then in space rented at the Nebraska State Building at 116 South 15th Street. Women were hired to work from their homes, making wigs and sewing doll clothing. The business grew quickly and by Christmas of 1946, the doll appeared in the Montgomery Ward's catalog.

The first dolls were made of "composition," made of ground up corncobs (Because of shortages in sawdust due to World War II). The hygroscopic nature of this material was problematic. Before the fall of 1947, the company was making dolls out of several types of experimental ethyl cellulose plastics. These early plastic dolls were painted with a flesh colored varnish. By 1950, the dolls were made of a tinted plastic called Tenite II, eliminating the need for painting the dolls' bodies.

A large part of the doll's appeal was her large, elaborate wardrobe. Terri Lee's clothing was similar to clothing worn by real little girls and it was made to withstand washing and ironing. High quality fabrics and lace, satin ribbons, and metal snaps were used. Terri Lee had pajamas, school dresses, formal wear, and even a Girl Scout uniform.
As the company grew, the factory moved several times in Lincoln. By 1951, they had a factory space at 2012 O Street. Nearly 3,000 dolls were made per week and they had 190 employees. On December 15, 1951, however, a fire destroyed the factory, and i 1952, Violet decided to relocate the factory in Apple Valley, California. Business thrived, but by 1957 Violet was focusing more on other interests like Arabian horse breeding and racing. The finances of the business began to suffer. There was a large debt and the company also faced several law suits. On November 14, 1958 a fire occurred at the Apple Valley factory causing over $100,000 in damage. Violet's financial advisor, Marvin James Miller, was arrested, and convicted of arson. Although Violet was never charged, the prosecution contended that he had conspired with Violet to burn the factory because of the risk of foreclosure. Violet received no insurance money from the fire, and in 1960 she auctioned off the remaining buildings, equipment, and her ranch to help cover part of the company's debt. Later that year, she began working for Magna Enterprises and briefly attempted to produce dolls through them. The relationship did not last long. In 1961 she authorized the Mar-Fan Company to use molds to create Terri Lee, Connie Lynn (a larger baby doll) and Tiny Terri dolls. A new version of Terri Lee, "Talking Terri," was also produced. The relationship with Mar-Fan ended in 1962. Violet eventually moved to Virginia to be closer to her daughter, and she passed away there in 1972.

In 1999, the Knickerbocker Toy Co. cooperated with surviving members of Violet's family, who formed Terri Lee Associates LLC, to produce a Terri Lee doll to commemorate the 50th Anniversary. Terri Lee Associates has continued to produce a line of Terri Lee dolls into the 21st Century.

For more information on the history of Terri Lee, see "The Best-Dressed Doll in the World: Nebraska's Own Terri Lee" by Tina Koeppe, Nebraska History, Winter, 2012.
Credit line Marilyn McCoy Carney
Collection Carney, Marilyn McCoy