What Happened To Etch A Sketch?

The Etch A Sketch is one of the most recognizable toys in history. The red-framed drawing tool provided hours of entertainment to kids (and adults) in the 1960s, and though simple, the drawing tool was like magic to its users. The toy consists of aluminum powder that allows users to draw on the screen with two knobs, and sketches can easily be erased by shaking the Etch A Sketch (per Vice).

Etch A Sketch was introduced to the masses by American toy manufacturing company Ohio Art Co. in 1960. After 56 years, however, Etch A Sketch was sold to Spin Master Corp. — a Canadian-based toy company, as reported by Ohio Art. Today, though not as popular as it once was, Etch A Sketch is still sold in toy stores, and it remains a fascinating — albeit low-tech — toy that many people still enjoy, making it one of the greatest toys of all time, per Time.

Who invented the Etch A Sketch?

In the mid-1950s, a French electrician named Andre Cassagnes was inspired to create a drawing toy after installing a light-switch plate at the factory where he worked. After peeling the protective sheet off the new plate, he made some markings using a pencil, and he noticed that the writing was visible on the opposite side, according to the New York Times. Cassagnes also worked with metallic powders, and with his discovery, he realized he could create a drawing tool. He worked on it for years until he came up with what he called "L'Ecran Magique" or "Magic Screen."

Cassagnes' invention was unveiled at the Nuremberg Toy Fair that was held in Germany in 1959, but it wasn't a big success. The agent for the Magic Screen wanted a hefty sum for the drawing toy, and toy and companies — such as Ohio Art and Hasbro — passed on it, as reported by CNBC. A month after, the Magic Screen was again presented at a toy fair in New York City, and that was when Ohio Art took a second look and decided to strike a deal with the agent for a sum much lower than the initial asking price.

The success of Etch A Sketch

After Ohio Art purchased the license for the Magic Screen, the company's engineers worked with Andre Cassagnes to further refine the design of the drawing toy. Initially, the toy came with joysticks, but they were replaced with knobs. In addition, the name was changed to Etch A Sketch (via Toy Tales). In France, however, the toy was released under the name Télécran, which translated to "Telescreen," as the design looked like a television. This was allowed since France had a separate license agreement. Production of the Etch A Sketch began, and it hit toy shelves in 1960.

The Etch A Sketch retailed at a price of $2.99 (about $28 in today's money), and it sold more than 600,000 units in its first year alone and was the No. 1 toy during the holidays the year it was released. Ohio Art also marketed the product well and made use of a TV campaign to introduce the product to the masses. Everyone — from children to adults — loved the drawing toy, and it became an immediate sensation.

Toy Story 2 increased its sales

In the 1990s, Ohio Art wasn't doing so well financially. It was about that time when filmmaker John Lasseter approached the company in order to have Etch A Sketch be included as one of the characters in the animated movie "Toy Story." The toy company agreed, and that was a great decision for Ohio Art. According to Nostalgia Central, that move provided free advertising for the company, and it translated to a 20% increase in Etch A Sketch sales. The character, aptly named Etch, also appeared in "Toy Story 2," which was released in 1999. Etch was, as expected, a skillful artist and as the main character Woody described, has the "fastest knobs in the west."

The Etch A Sketch was also featured in the 2003 movie "Elf" starring Will Ferrell. The drawing toy was one of the ones featured during a scene at Santa Claus' workshop, and again, it was an effective marketing tool for the toy, per Good Faith Media.

The Etch A Sketch's distinctions

Throughout the years, little changes have been made to Etch A Sketch. Instead, more varieties of the drawing toy were created that included additional sizes and colors. The Etch A Sketch was such a popular toy that it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, per The Strong. The organization was established to give recognition to toys that have inspired a generation. In addition, the Toy Industry Association also named the Etch A Sketch as one of the 100 Most Memorable Toys of the 20th Century.

Despite remaining a low-tech toy, the Etch A Sketch still has a place in children's hearts. Its simplicity breeds creativity, and it provides timeless entertainment for kids of all ages. To date, as reported by the Tech Times, Etch A Sketch has sold more than 175 million units around the world since it was released on July 12, 1960. Every year, fans of the timeless toy celebrate Etch A Sketch day on July 12.

Etch A Sketch artists

Etch A Sketch was advertised as a toy for children, but artists make use of it as well. Creating works of art on the drawing pad takes patience and practice, and several artists have mastered the craft. One of them is Christoph Brown, also known as the "Etch Man" (via NBC Los Angeles). Brown turned his talent into a business and established Etch U, a company that provides entertainment at parties and events using the Etch A Sketch. He creates caricatures of people at events, and the images are permanently preserved by removing the aluminum powder inside the Etch A Sketch.

Another famous Etch A Sketch artist is Jane Labowitch — nicknamed Princess Etch — who started drawing on the Etch A Sketch when she was 4 years old. Like Brown, she has her own business and creates various drawings based on her clients' needs. She also does commissions and ships her art all over the world.