The Story Behind…The Etch A Sketch

The inventor of one of America’s most iconic toys has passed away. Here, Etch A Sketch’s cool and intriguing history.

1. André Cassagnes, Inventor of the Etch A Sketch (1926-2013)

A French electrician, Cassanges had the idea for the toy come to him while installing a light switch plate that was coated in aluminium powder. After making some pencil marks on the powder, he noticed that the marks were also visible on the other side of the plate. He took the idea of making electrostatic designs to entertainment, developing what he called L’Écran Magique (the Magic Screen). Ohio Art bought the design from Cassanges in 1959 for $25,000, which is the equivalent of nearly $200,000 today.

2. Introducing the Toy to the Market

The original design featured a single joystick but was ultimately reconfigured to resemble a TV set with two control knobs.

3. The Etch A Sketch Animator

In 1986, Ohio Art put out the Etch A Sketch Animator, which let you create simple animated drawings and even save them.

4. The Etch A Sketch as a New Art Form

Over the years, the iconic toy has become a veritable artistic medium. George Vlosich is particularly well-known for his impeccable and intricate designs of celebrities.

5. Etch A Sketch’s Political Involvement

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During the 2012 presidential campaign, Eric Fehrnstrom, an advisor to Mitt Romney, made the mistake of saying this about Mitt’s campaign: “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” Stephen Colbert’s staff writers rejoice — this stuff is just too easy.

6. As a Response:

Ohio Art capitalizes on what could have been some bad press and puts out some tongue-in-cheek ads. One read, “We have a left knob and a right knob for each political party. But remember, when both work together, we can do loop de loops.” Another said, “Etch A Sketch is a lot like politics. There’s a lot of gray area.”

7. TV and Film Appearances

In season one of Breaking Bad, Walt gets the idea to dismantle a bunch of Etch A Sketches for the aluminium powder inside, which he and Jesse use to create thermite to burn through a door. Badass. Of course, we have to assume there’s no way Etch A Sketch would give Breaking Bad permission to use its product, so what you see in the episode instead are green “Sketcher-roos.”

AMC

Etch A Sketch had some sweet screen time in Toy Story 1, 2, and 3. Etch managed to beat woody in a gun “draw” duel. Woody took it well: “Oh! Got me again. Etch, you’ve been working on that draw. Fastest knobs in the West.”

9. This Joke Is a Popular One:

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