While tinkering in his garage, French electrician Andre Cassagnes dreamed up a drawing toy that kids could shake up and start over.
Little did he know that more than 50 years later, the toy that became the Etch A Sketch would continue to delight children.
Cassagnes died January 16 in a Paris suburb at age 86, according to a statement released Saturday by The Ohio Art Company. His cause of his death was not disclosed.
Cassagnes created what would become the Etch A Sketch in his garage in 1950. The drawing toy was made up of a joystick, glass and aluminum powder.
Initially dubbed the Telecran, the toy was renamed L’Ecran Magique, or ‘The Magic Screen,’ and made its debut at a toy fair in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1959.
Fascinated by the invention, American Henry Winzeler, founder and president of The Ohio Art Company, licensed L’Ecran Magique for $25,000 and introduced it as Etch A Sketch in the United States in 1960.
Winzeler connected Cassagnes with Jerry Burger, an engineer at the company, so they could collaborate to improve the toy’s drawing capability.
Among the changes made to the Etch A Sketch in 1960 was replacing the joystick with two white knobs in the left and right corners of the screen. The idea was to make the toy look like the hot new adult toy of the time: a television.
It quickly became the most popular selling toy during the Christmas season that year, according to the manufacturer. Since then, the company has sold more than 150 million of them.
A mainstay in popular culture
The toy was thrust into the political spotlight during last year during a highly publicized gaffe by Mitt Romney’s senior campaign adviser, who compared his candidate’s positions to an Etch A Sketch.
“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” the aide said. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”
The Ohio Art Company seized on the publicity, manufacturing red and blue Etch A Sketches during the campaign season.
The toy’s “magic screen” was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, and it was added by the Toy Industry Association to its “Century of Toys” list in 2003.
“I remember making works of art of the Etch A Sketch as a child, in hindsight — realizing that they were merely poorly drawn stick figures,” said Larry Killgallon, the current president of The Ohio Art Company. “Nonetheless, I, as well as many others, owe thanks to Mr. Cassagnes for a toy embedded in so many of my childhood memories.”
Cassanges went on to become a well-known kite-maker, developing a series of ring-shaped kites to celebrate the Olympic Games.
He is survived by his wife, Renee.