Etch A Sketch

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Etch A Sketch
Type Drawing toy
Inventor André Cassagnes
Company Ohio Art Company
Country France, United States
Availability 1960–present
Official website

Etch A Sketch is a mechanical drawing toy invented by André Cassagnes of France and subsequently manufactured by the Ohio Art Company.[1]

An Etch A Sketch has a thick, flat gray screen in a red plastic frame. There are two knobs on the front of the frame in the lower corners. Twisting the knobs moves a stylus that displaces aluminum 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 Etch A Sketch was introduced near the peak of the Baby Boom on July 12, 1960 for $2.99.[2] It went on to sell 600,000 units[2] that year and is one of the best known toys of that era. In 1998, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong, in Rochester, New York. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Etch A Sketch to its Century of Toys List, a roll call commemorating the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century.[3]


Basic mechanism of operating a 2-dimensional plotter. The numbered components correspond to those that move the stylus horizontally, and the lettered components with those that move it vertically. The device has ten pulleys, six cables, two rails, and a stylus. Pulley 1 (single-groove) connects to pulley 2 (triple-groove) via a short infinite reciprocating cable. Pulley 2 connects to 3 (also triple-groove) via a longer reciprocating cable attached along its upper course to one end of the vertical rail (6), and then a third cable runs from 2 to 3, 4, and 5 (4 and 5 are single-groove) via another much longer loop of cable between 4 and 5 to the other end of the vertical rail. Likewise, A connects to B, B connects to C and attaches to the horizontal rail (F), and finally B connects to C, D, and E, attaching to F at its other end between D and E. Turning pulley 1 counterclockwise makes 2 rotate the same way, and this makes all pulleys connected to 2 (3, 4, and 5) do the same. The rail these cables connect to (6, connection points marked in red) move to the left both at ends, making the stylus move in the same direction along the other rail (F). Clockwise movement of pulley 1 has the opposite effect. Pulleys A-E operate the same as 1-5, and act on the horizontal rail (F) to slide the stylus up and down along the vertical one (6).

The toy is a kind of 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. Turning both knobs simultaneously makes diagonal lines. To erase the picture, the user 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 aluminum powder. The "black" line merely exposes the darkness inside the toy. Filling in large "black" areas allows enough light through to expose parts of the interior.


The Etch A Sketch toy was invented in the late 1950s by André Cassagnes,[4][5][6] an electrician with Lincrusta Co.[2] In 1959, he took his drawing toy to the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, 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 business. After a complex series of negotiations, The Ohio Art Company launched the toy in the United States in time for the 1960 Christmas season with the name "Etch A Sketch". Ohio Art supported the toy with a televised advertising campaign.[7] Etch a Sketch was manufactured in Bryan, Ohio until the company moved the manufacturing plant to Shenzhen, China in 2001.[8]

In France, its country of origin, Etch a Sketch was sold under the name of "Télécran",[9] rather than L'Ecran Magique.

Etch A Sketch Animator[edit]

The Etch A Sketch Animator

The Etch A Sketch Animator (known simply as "The Animator" in Europe), debuted in 1986,[7] and 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 Animator 2000[edit]

A Etch-a-Sketch Animator 2000
A cartridge for an Etch A Sketch Animator 2000

In 1988, Ohio Art introduced a more advanced version of the Etch A Sketch Animator known as the Etch A Sketch Animator 2000. The initial price was $139.99. It featured a low-resolution LCD screen. It also featured 196 kilobytes of "powerful computer memory". The Etch A Sketch Animator 2000 replaced the well known knobs with "The Magic Touchpad". The Etch A Sketch Animator 2000 also had a cartridge slot for additional memory or game cartridges. Four cartridges were made for the Etch A Sketch Animator 2000: "Fly By"', a flight simulator game, "Overdrive", a road racing game, "Putt-Nuts", a miniature golf game, and "Memory", a memory expansion cartridge.The price for one cartridge was $28.99. The Etch A Sketch Animator 2000 can do 22 frames of pictures and 99 frames of animation.

Etch A Sketch Color[edit]

In 1993, Ohio launched a Color Etch A Sketch.[7] Similar to the original Etch A Sketch, it used the traditional two-knob interface to draw, but also featured six colors. It also had the ability to produce a color copy of each picture drawn

Etch A Sketch ETO - Plug and Play Drawing System / Etch A Sketch Wired[edit]

These are basically hand-held controllers that connect to a television like handheld TV games and work like a regular Etch A Sketch, except on the television screen and with the addition of colors and sound effects.

Etch A Sketch art[edit]

There are a few practicing artists who use the Etch A Sketch to produce professional lineographic work. Most artists make their work permanent by removing the aluminum powder. This is done either by drilling holes in the bottom of the toy or by removing the entire plastic backing. It is then resealed as a semi-permanent, shake-resistant piece of art.

See also[edit]

  • Magna Doodle, a somewhat similar toy using a different principle of operation.
  • The Mystic Writing Pad (also called Wunderblock), an old children's toy, which can be used for writing or drawing. Consisting of a thin sheet of clear plastic covering a thick waxed board.
  • Etch-a-sketch gaffe during the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign.

Toy Story Trilogy[edit]

In The Disney/Pixar Toy Story trilogy, Andy Davis owns an Etch-A-Sketch.

In Toy Story, Etch is first seen engaging in a quick gun duel with Sheriff Woody. Woody described Etch as having the "fastest knobs in the west." After Buzz Lightyear was introduced, Etch took a liking to him like the rest of Andy's toys. When Woody saw him making a drawing of Buzz, he immediately shook Etch up to erase it and then threw him aside. Later, when Woody got in trouble for accidentally knocking Buzz out of a bedroom window, Mr. Potato Head had Etch draw a hangman noose and threatened to hang him. This proved possible that Etch was one of the many toys that went against Woody and saw him as guilty for knocking Buzz out of the window. However, when Woody attempted to save Buzz with RC, Etch attacked him, along with all the others, and proceeded to throw Woody out of the moving van, after thinking that Woody was trying to "'murder" RC by kicking him out of the van. At the end of the film, he is seen celebrating with the toys and listening to Sarge, on what presents Andy had got for Christmas.

In Toy Story 2, Etch was first seen helping Buzz, Hamm and the others by drawing Woody's kidnapper. At first, the toys struggled in figuring out who the thief was and had Etch draw several men who are possible suspects. However, after Buzz figured out the abbreviated letters on the man's license plate, Etch, told by Buzz, drew the man in a chicken costume, revealing it to be Al McWhiggin of Al's Toy Barn, upon his own and everyone else's shock. When Rex and the other toys surfed through television channels to find the location of the store, Etch was seen watching with them, and then drew a very elaborate map on how to get there so the toy could recuse Woody. After the toys returned home from their mission, they stood on Andy's bed to await his arrival back home. They used Etch, who drew a message "Welcome home, Andy," to welcome Andy back home with new toys Jessie, Bullseye and The Aliens. Etch last appeared one more time at the end of the film when the toys listened to Wheezy sing "You've Got a Friend in Me", using Mike the Microphone as a karaoke machine.

In Toy Story 3, Etch appeared briefly at the opening in the home videos. Many years later, It was revealed by Woody that he was sold over the time span between the second and third film, along with Wheezy and Bo Peep.


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