Etch A Sketch is a registered trademark for a mechanical drawing toy manufactured by the Ohio Art Co. and is a thick, flat gray screen in a plastic frame. The Etch A Sketch toy was invented in France in the late 1950s by André Cassagnes, in his basement.

He called it 'L'Ecran Magique', the 'Magic screen'. In 1959, he took his drawing toy to the International Toy Fair in Nuremburg, Germany. The Ohio Art Company saw it but had no interest in the toy. When Ohio Art saw the toy a second time, they decided to take a chance on the product. The L'Ecran Magique was soon renamed the Etch A Sketch and became the most popular drawing toy in the toy business. In the 1960s, Ohio Art used television to advertise the Etch A Sketch. After a complex series of negotiations, The Ohio Art Company launched the toy in the United States in time for the 1960 holiday season with the name 'Etch A Sketch'. Ohio Art supported the Etch A Sketch with a televised advertising campaign.

Etch a Sketch was manufactured in Bryan, Ohio until the company moved the manufacturing plant to Shenzhen, China in 2001.

How it works

There are two knobs on the front of the frame in the lower corners. Twisting the knobs moves a stylus that displaces aluminium powder on the back of the screen, leaving a solid line. The knobs create lineographic images. The left control moves the stylus horizontally, and the right one moves it vertically. The toy was introduced near the peak of the Baby Boom, and is one of the best known toys of that generation. In 1998 was Etch A Sketch inducted by the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester (New York). In 2003, the Toy Industry Association added Etch A Sketch to its Century of Toys List, a roll call commemorating the 100 most creative & memorable toys of the 20th century.

The toy can be considered a simplified version of a plotter. The inside surface of the glass screen is coated with aluminium 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. 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 aluminium 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.

The Etch A Sketch Animator, which debuted in 1986, featured a low-resolution dot matrix display and used two knobs for drawing, like a regular Etch A Sketch, with several buttons to manipulate the drawings. It had a few kilobytes of memory, capable of storing 12 frames of pictures in any combination up to 96 times. It contained a speaker, which made static-like sounds when the knobs were moved and during animations.

Etch A Sketch art

It takes some practice -20 years to be precise- but it's worth it. Read George Vlosich's story:

....Since 1989 - at just ten years of age - George Vlosich III has been perfecting his talent on the Etch A Sketch. Each is an original work of art that takes 70-80 hours to create. Once finished, the piece is then preserved to stand the test of time. Every creation is uniquely different, and cannot be duplicated. They are featured in galleries throughout the world and have sold for more than $10,000. George has Etched many of the world's greatest athletes and celebrities and his work has been described as 'the one continuous line that continues to amaze the world.' George is proud to have paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps, but what continues to set George apart is his amazing story, his incredibly detailed etches, his worldwide publicity and his uncompromising passion to take his Etches to places no one ever thought possible....

Links

Updated: 2 Dec. 2015

Etch A Sketch value

What's it worth? Take a look at this Etch A Sketch price guide: sold listings for a value indication.

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