Toyland Treasures: Etch A Sketch

Etch A Sketch - Taj Mahal

André Cassagnes, a French electrician, used his working knowledge of the clinging properties of aluminum powder to create an all-in-one mechanical drawing tool. Employing the rather complex and elegant mechanics of a 2-dimensional plotter on the inside, the toy’s exterior is iconically simple: a gray screen framed in a bright red housing with a white nob at each of the bottom corners (one controlling horizontal and the other vertical movement of the stylus). Each drawing could be erased by flipping the device face down and shaking vigorously.

Cassagnes debuted the concept, which he initially called L’Ecran Magique, The Magic Screen, at the International Toy Fair in Nuremburg, Germany, in 1959, but failed to attract much attention, initially. The U.S.-based Ohio Art Company later reconsidered, however, and payed $25,000, a company record at that time, for the licensing rights. After a catchy rebrand and saturation marketing on television leading up to the 1960 Christmas shopping season, the company sold 600,000 units of the Etch A Sketch that first year.

Already one of the most successful toys of its era, Etch A Sketch’s popularity experienced a significant resurgence around the turn of the 21st century after being featured in Pixar’s “Toy Story” series of films. Today, there are even enterprising online artists who, for a few hundred bucks, will execute and deliver custom Etch A Sketch portraits.

Be sure to check out more of our favorite Toyland Treasures!

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