The Etch A Sketch is one of the best known toys of the Baby Boom generation. French inventor André Cassagnes stumbled upon the idea in the 1950s and the core technology of the toy remains today. Cassagnes died Jan. 16 at the age of 86.
Born just outside of Paris on Sept. 23, 1926, Cassagnes worked at his parents’ bakery before becoming an electrician at Lincrusta Co., a French manufacturer of artificial seat and picture frame coverings that used aluminum powder in the production process.
According to the Toy Industry Association, the origins of Etch A Sketch go back to the late 1950s, when Cassagnes was installing a factory light switch plate covered with a translucent decal.
When Cassagnes peeled the decal from the light switch plate, he made some pencil marks on the decal face and noticed that the image transferred to the opposite face. This paved the way for the idea of a drawing toy.
A U.S. company, Ohio Art, saw Cassagnes’ toy at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1959 and decided to manufacture it. They called it “Etch A Sketch” and launched it during the 1960 holiday season.
That December, Etch A Sketch became the No. 1 selling toy in the U.S.
Also noted in an Ohio Art press release is the Etch A Sketch’s significance in modern American culture. “(The Etch A Sketch) has made significant appearances in movies such as “Toy Story,” helping its fame to continue to rise 35 years after its birth and in political speeches, bringing it back into media focus during the 2012 presidential debates.”
The latter, of course, refers to GOP candidate Mitt Romney being compared to the toy by his advisor, in his ability to be shaken up and to “start all over” with his campaign goals.
“Etch A Sketch has brought much success to the Ohio Art Company, and we will be eternally grateful to André for that,” said Larry Killgallon, president of Ohio Art Co. “His invention brought joy to so many over such a long period of time.”
Cassagnes also went on to become the most famous competitive kite-maker in France in the 1980s. His other inventions included Teleguide, a system to guide metal cars on a track, mechanical games, and SkeDoodle, a globe screen-drawing toy concept.