Andre Cassagnes, the inventor of the Etch A Sketch, the toy that spanned generations upon generations of kids and kids at heart which enabled them to draw and then “shake the image away” creating a clean slate and enabling the toy to be used again and again, has died at the age of 86 in France, says Ohio Art, the company that manufactures the famed unit and has done so since 1960.
At first a staple for kids of the baby boomer generation, and then having enough of a popularity to endure strongly today, even in the midst of electronic devices like iPads and the like, which can emulate everything about the toy but its overall charm, the Etch A Sketch in essence enabled the user to be a budding artist. There were no messy paints or myriads of crayons to be used, and the format was relatively simple, utilizing a black line stylus which displaced aluminum powder onto a back of a gray screen either in a horizontal or vertical fashion, as noted by the left and right white knobs on the bottom of the red unit itself. The fun and the trick was seeing what could be done with it. There wasn’t a way to make circular imagery unless one used a certain amount of physics involved to it, and since the line never technically broke and just kept going on the screen, there was the challenge for some to see what kind of realistic, surrealistic, or basically any type of art one could muster up.
People using an Etch A Sketch range from laymen who can barely draw a tin can, to seasoned obsessive pros who have rendered imagery like The New York Skyline, or the hills of Paris or animals, classic figures in history, and a myriad of other visual artifacts and geography. Once one was done with their creation, they simply “shook” the unit, actually and physically, until they got a clean slate again. It created and remains a toy that had outlasted many other toys in its wake, and stands up there with the Rubik’s Cube as one of the all-time beloved and superstar successful toys.
The unit itself was invented by Cassagnes in the late 1950s in his native country of France. At the time, Cassanges was an electrician and he came up with the idea accidentally when he had peeled a translucent decal from a light switch plate and found pencil marks transferred to the opposite face. Figuring out how to harness this idea into a toy, he originally called it “L’Ecran Magique” (The Magic Screen). A year later, he took it to an International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany. The Ohio Art Company had to see it twice before they committed to manufacturing it for the American public. Finally during Christmas 1960, it debuted in toy stores and soon became an American pop cultural artifact and institution.
There have been many variants since its inception, from an animator version to a color one, to small versions that house on keychains, and other ephemera, such as T-shirts and versions that connected straight to one’s TV. But there’s still no substitute for that original version, the version which came packaged not in a box, but an overlay in a sense, so you didn’t have to wait to tinker with it when you got home, or even buy the item for that matter from the toy store, you could just render and sketch away instantly. (See the Ohio Art Classic Etch A Sketch In 1960 Box.)
The classic toy got a huge bump in popularity and sales during the 2012 Presidential election. When GOP nominee Mitt Romney was still campaigning in the Republican primary, one of his aides said that if Romney won of nomination, their campaign would change by shaking it up like an Etch A Sketch and starting all over. Romney’s opponents, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, immediately began holding up Etch A Sketches as visual aids during their own rallies, which led to a 30% increase in sales of the toy.
Cassagnes passed away on January 16th. The news is only now starting to circulate around the press. For everyone, it marks the passing of a man who created a toy that will always remain memorable and a super addictive fun good time for the user, but now also a toy that has a stamp of poignancy affixed to it. An image on the Etch-A-Sketch can always be erased, time and time again, always and forever, but luckily, the remembrance and achievement of the man who created it, Andre Cassagnes, can never be erased, or shaken away.
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