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First marketed in 1960, the Etch A Sketch® has become one of the most popular creative children's toys of recent times.
The technical basis of the toy was developed in the late 1950s by the Frenchman Arthur Granjean. Granjean displayed his prototype, which he had built in his basement and called "L'Ecran Magique" ("The Magic Screen"), at the 1959 International Toy Exhibition in Nuremburg, Germany. There, executives of the Ohio Art Company saw the potential of the device, and acquired the rights to develop and produce it.
In a year of research and development, the Etch A Sketch® achieved its now classic name and shape (US patent #3,760,505). The red frame holds a glass screen, the back of which is coated with a mixture of aluminum powder and tiny plastic beads. Two knobs control the movement of a single stylus horizontally and vertically through the aluminum powder. As the stylus moves, it leaves behind a black trail on the screen. Shaking the device remixes the powder, thus clearing the screen.
Given a generation of children who take computer graphics for granted, the Etch A Sketch® may seem outmoded. But its appeal is that it is challenging as well as fun. Creating curves by manipulating both knobs at once is a true test of coordination. In addition, the line generated by the stylus must remain unbroken, so that elaborate designs must be planned out in advance. Etch A Sketch® experts succeed in creating some truly impressive designs, and can preserve their designs by draining the powder from the device. The Etch A Sketch® Club includes over 35,000 members, aged 2 to 82, some of them professional artists in their own right.
Today, there are Etch A Sketch® models of various types, some with color and sound effects; but the original model, an overnight sensation in the Christmas season of 1960, has withstood the test of time to remain a classic.
The Etch A Sketch® name and configuration is a registered trademark of the Ohio Art Company. Above: Turkey designed by Jeff (J.C.) Converse, Moscow Scene by Mark Allison. For more Etch A Sketch® artwork and activities, visit their website, at http://www.world-of-toys.com/.