Who Invented the Etch-a-Sketch?

Pocket Etch A Sketch. Lizzie Erwood / Flickr

A phenomenally popular toy that allows users to draw on a screen by controlling two knobs, the Etch-A-Sketch was developed by a French electrician named André Cassagnes -- though another man's name, Arthur Granjean, ended up on the patent. 

The inspiration for the toy began while Cassagnes was at work and noticed that pencil marks he had made on a decal had imprinted through the decal and onto the piece it had been attached to.

This small event inspired the electrician to explore the idea of creating a toy that could draw. 

Working with glass, aluminum powder and a pointed stick to do the actual drawing, Cassagnes honed his creation. The prototype he came up with allowed users to turn two knobs, one that controlled the horizontal movement of the of the joy stick and one that controlled the vertical movement. Twisting the knobs either singly or simultaneously (to create a diagonal line), users could etch a design on the screen. They could also shake the screen to create a “blank canvass” and create a new sketch. 

Cassagnes called his reusable drawing toy Telecran, inspired by the television-like screen and knobs of his creation, and began looking for manufacturing partners. After finding a manufacturer, the toy was licensed it to Joustra in France. Today if you mention Etch A Sketch to someone in Paris, they probably won’t know what you are talking about; Telecran is still the name for the toy in France.

 

Cassagnes's name is nowhere to be found on the patent, however. When he couldn't afford to pay for the patent, he borrowed money from an investor which sent a treasurer, Arthur Granjean, to pay for and file the patent. Granjean's name was erroneously listed on the patent as the inventor, and he was long credited as the toy's inventor.

In 1960, the Ohio Toy company acquired the American rights and gave the toy a descriptive and rhyming new name that was fun to say: Etch A Sketch. The unique-looking toy, with its red frame, white knobs and an embossed message calling out the “magic screen” was an instant eye-catcher. Its interactive, “shake to erase” functionality delighted users of all ages. It became an instant hit.  The company shipped over 600,000 units in a single year, and it remains one of the most famous and best-selling toys.

Over the years the company has released many different versions of the Etch A Sketch, from Pocket Etch A Sketch to the Travel Etch A Sketch to branded tie-in versions of the toy, such as the Doc McStuffins Etch A Sketch Junior, licensed from Disney.