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Design Icon: Etch-A-Sketch

by Maxwell Tielman


Design: Etch-A-Sketch (originally known as “L’Ecran Magique,” meaning “The Magic Screen”)

Designer: André Cassagnes (1926-2013)

Date: 1959

Country of Origin: France

Manufacturer: Ohio Art Company

Background: The Etch-A-Sketch’s inventor, André Cassagnes, worked as an electrical technician and happened upon his inspiration for the popular toy by chance—during the installation of a factory light switch plate. Cassagnes noticed that when he drew on the aluminum residue that coated the light switch’s decal covering, the design was visible on the other side of the translucent decal. Mechanically, the Etch-A-Sketch is somewhat similar—the interior is coated with a layer of aluminum powder that is displaced by an interior stylus (controlled by the two knobs on the Etch-A-Sketch screen). The black lines on the screen are actually the dark interior of the toy becoming visible as the aluminum powder is “erased.” Shaking the Etch-A-Sketch forces the aluminum powder to re-coat the screen’s interior, thus creating a blank canvas.

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

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