Toyland Treasures: Spirograph

Spirograph

Several versions of a device for drawing precise roulette curves were first developed in the nineteenth century by architects, engineers, and mathematicians. Peter Hubert Desvignes, whose idea was perhaps the earliest, was a Greek-born English architect and engineer who developed and advertised one such device, which he called a “Speiragraph,” as early as 1827. By the 1840s, Desvignes, working in Vienna, applied the concept to designing patterns that were applied to bank notes, creating highly complex and precise designs that were very difficult for forgers to replicate by reverse engineering.

In the early twentieth century, a couple of drawing toys based on the concept were marketed as “Wondergraphs,” but the definitive version was developed by British engineer Denys Fisher and made its debut as the “Spirograph” at the 1965 Nuremberg International Toy Fair. Kenner picked up the US distribution rights and started selling the creative drawing toy stateside the next year. This classic first version of the set featured geared wheels and rules of various sizes made of clear plastic that could be made to rotate within and around one another as colored pens inserted into small holes drove them forward and left traces of the complex motion on the paper below.

While the mathematics underlying the circular patterns is quite complex, the toy’s enduring appeal rests with the fascinating beauty of the seemingly endless myriad of possible variations – and the highly satisfying process of creating them. New versions of the set released in subsequent years have been enhanced by the use of brightly colored plastic and innovative, non-circular shapes for some the drawing templates that have expanded the range of design possibilities even further. Named Toy of the Year in 1967 and again in 2014, the year after a major re-launch by Kahootz Toys, the Spirograph trademark is currently owned by Hasbro. (The latest manufacturer, Kahootz Toys was acquired by PlayMonster in November 2019.)

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

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