This Day in Tech History

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The thing I bought for my grandpa & told him was an iPod

impressive_etch_sketch_art_02July 12, 1960:  Etch A Sketch Debuts in the US

It is the famous drawing tool that has become a cult classic. The Etch A Sketch was introduced in the United States, near the peak of the Baby Boom in 1960.  The Ohio Art Company launched the Etch a Sketch during the 1960 holiday season, and is one of the best known toys of that era.  Since being brought out on shelves in 1960 it has taken its popularity to many levels.  Some people create masterpieces, while others just play with the dials.

Andre Cassagnes

Andre Cassagnes

Andre Cassagnes

Andre Cassagnes

Etch A Sketch is a mechanical drawing toy invented by French inventor André Cassagnes and subsequently manufactured by the Ohio Art Company.

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Andre Cassagnes

Cassagnes was performing a routine installation of a factory light switch plate.  The plate was wrapped in a translucent decal covering.  During the installation, Cassagnes removed the decal and wrote on it with a pencil.  He quickly noticed that image transferred to the opposite face of the decal.

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Cassagnes tinkered with his discovery, which led to the world’s first prototype of the Etch A Sketch.  He called his invention L’Ecran Magique, which is translated as “the Magic Screen.”  The toy was first unveiled in 1959 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in Nuremberg, West Germany.  Cassagnes later partnered with the American manufacturer Ohio Art Company to further develop the Etch a Sketch into its familiar form.

It was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York in 1998.  In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Etch A Sketch to its Century of Toys List, a roll call commemorating the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century.

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The toy can be considered a simplified version of a plotter. The inside surface of the glass screen is coated with aluminum powder which is then scraped off by a movable stylus, leaving a dark line on the light gray screen. The stylus is controlled by the two large knobs, one of which moves it vertically and the other horizontally; turning both knobs simultaneously creates diagonal lines.

To erase the picture, the artist turns the toy upside down and shakes it.  Doing this causes polystyrene beads to smooth out and re-coat the inside surface of the screen with aluminum powder.  The “black” line merely exposes the darkness inside the toy.  Filling in large “black” areas will allow enough light through to expose parts of the interior.

Etch A Sketch Art

(click on an image for larger view)

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