One of the most popular drawing toys ever conceived, the Etch-A-Sketch has taunted the imagination and tested the dexterity of millions of artists for the past fifty years with its two little white knobs. The only thing the toy lacked was forgiveness. Master the operation of the controls and you could create a masterpiece. Make any little mistake and you literally had to shake it off and start over.
Leave it to the French – connoisseurs of more variations of cheese, wine, and bread than there are days in the year – to make something extraordinary out of the ordinary. Arthur Granjean did just that in 1959 when he invented “l’Ecran Magique,” or “The Magic Screen.” Everything about the toy was derived from the mundane. Granjean used simple physics to essentially create a plotter that kids could draw with.
At the International Toy Fair in Nuremburg, Germany, Granjean presented his rectangular toy to the world … and watched as everyone passed him by. But after giving it a little thought, American toy manufacturer Ohio Art Company returned for a second look and decided maybe there was something to this Magic Screen after all.
The Ohio Art Company brought there new toy back to the States and modified it with a few marketing friendly touches, such as a red plastic frame (nine and a half inches long) and renamed it the Etch-A-Sketch. As 1960 drew to a close, print and television advertising bombarded consumers. The result was as magic as the screen itself. Etch-A-Sketch flew off the shelves and became the envy of seemingly every child in America.