The Etch A Sketch goes on sale, July 12, 1960

-July 12, 2017

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On this day in tech history, the popular Etch A Sketch toy went on sale, using electrostatic charge and aluminum powder to create hours of entertainment and frustration.

The toy was invented by French electrical technician André Cassagnes in the late 1950s. While working in a factory that made embossed wall coverings that mimic sculptural bas-relief, he peeled the translucent protective decal off a light-switch plate, and made some marks on it in pencil. He noticed that the marks became visible on the reverse side of the decal. His pencil had raked visible lines through particles of powder, which clung naturally to the decal by means of an electrostatic charge.

After making this discovery, Cassagnes spent five years working on the invention he called L’Ecran Magique, the magic screen.

Inside the device, static charges hold a mixture of aluminum powder and tiny plastic beads to a clear plastic screen. Knobs control the horizontal and vertical rods that move a stylus where the two meet. A fairly sophisticated pulley system operates the orthogonal rails that move the stylus around when the knobs are turned. The stylus etches a black line into the powder-coated window to create the drawing. Turning the screen over and giving it a shake erases the picture by recoating it with aluminum powder.

The toy was introduced at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany in 1959, but drew little attention until the Ohio Art Company invested $25,000 for the license. The company renamed it the Etch A Sketch and began production and marketing in 1960. It was the must-have Christmas toy that year and now more than 100 million have been sold.

The Etch A Sketch now comes in various sizes, shapes, and colors. You can even make your mobile device into the toy with drawing apps and ideas to make your iPad work like the Etch A Sketch.

Also see:

For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on July 12, 2013 and edited on July 12, 2017.

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