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Random Thoughts

Fetch a Sketch

Hudson Cooper
Posted 4/12/24

As a baby boomer there were many gadgets and toys that were designed to keep us busy. We had things like the Slinky, Silly Putty and the skateboard. But on July 12th, 1960, for the low price of …

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Random Thoughts

Fetch a Sketch


As a baby boomer there were many gadgets and toys that were designed to keep us busy. We had things like the Slinky, Silly Putty and the skateboard. But on July 12th, 1960, for the low price of $2.99, we were able to enter a new realm of entertaining ourselves. For that price many of us were lucky enough to get an Etch A Sketch. In that year alone they sold 600,000 of them and it began making many of us delight in using the new device to create images.

Now let us go into the history of the Etch A Sketch. It was invented in the late 1950s by Andre Cassagnes who was an electrician. He named the toy the L’Ecran Magique which translates into “the magic screen.” It was introduced at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany. In 1959 a big United States company, the Ohio Art Company, examined it but had no interest in the toy at that time. However, when they saw the toy a second time they decided to take a chance on the product. They renamed it Etch A Sketch. It became the most popular drawing device in the United States. The Ohio Art Company brought the toy out for the Christmas season in 1960 and supported it with a major television advertising campaign.

The design of the original Etch A Sketch had a safety problem that caused the consumers union to file a petition against it. The Etch A Sketch had a plate glass screen which was easily broken and a danger to children. The Food and Drug administration in 1969 announced that the toy had to be redesigned, replacing the glass plate with plastic.

The Etch A Sketch turned out to be a cash cow for the Ohio Art Company. According to toy research experts, more than one hundred million have been sold since its introduction in 1960. Some people decided to try to use it to create professional works of art. One artist named Nicole Falzone also known as the “Monet of the Magic Screen,” made detailed portraits of celebrities like Jim Carrey, Stevie Wonder and Bill Gates. The secret to creating these long-lasting drawings is to drill holes in the back of the casing and drain the Etch A Sketch of its aluminum powder so that the image cannot be erased.

The design of the Etch A Sketch seems remarkably simple, but it takes a while to master it. There are two knobs on the lower corners of the frame. Twisting the knobs moves the stylus displacing aluminum powder on the back of the screen leaving its solid line. The result is an image that emerges as you create. The left knob shifts the stylus horizontally while the right one moves it vertically. They control how you can create intriguing designs, geometric shapes or whimsical doodles. If you make a mistake and want to start over, just shake it causing the aluminum powder to resettle and wiping your creation away and readying the screen for new adventures.

In 1988 the Etch A Sketch earned a place in the National Toy Hall of Fame. It got a big boost when it was featured in the 1995 Disney film “Toy Story.” Although it appears for only 12 seconds in the film, it was enough to give it a significant sales boost. In fact, the movie increased the demand, requiring the production line to work overtime. However, the company experienced severe financial trouble from canceled orders and various copycat knockoffs. It was reaching a point where the company might go bankrupt. They were thrown a lifeline when “Toy Story 2” brought the Etch A Sketch back to life again in a scene that lasted 45 seconds. The exposure again from Pixar resulted in sales increasing by 20% and ensuring the survival of the “Magic Screen.”

Every generation discovers the fun you can have with an Etch A Sketch. It seems to be able to last “to infinity and beyond.”

Hudson Cooper is a resident of Sullivan County, a writer, comedian and actor.


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