Etch-A-Sketch Inventor Dies at 86

André Cassagnes the inventor of the classic mid-century art toy the 'Etch A Sketch' died this weekend in Paris at age 86.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social network have seen many artistic images which have been created using this simple device.

In the late 1950's, André Cassagnes, an electrician and inventor from France, stumbled upon the idea of creating a drawing toy with an etching device using glass and aluminum powder.

Cassagnes called this early concept, the "Telecran". Through his relationship with Jerry Burger, Chief Engineer at the Ohio Art Company, he further developed and perfected the system.

The toy they developed is virtually the same system that is at the core of the Etch A Sketch today.

The Etch A Sketch, with its familiar red-frame, grey screen and two white dials, allows children to draw something and shake it away to start again.

It was given a new lease of life by being represented in the popular Toy Story films, appealing to a new generation of toy buyers.


The Etch A Sketch was introduced near the peak of the Baby Boom in 1960. It was one of the first ever toys advertised on TV.

In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Etch A Sketch to its Century of Toys List, a roll call commemorating the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century.

The toy can be considered a simplified version of a plotter. The inside surface of the glass screen is coated with aluminum powder which is then scraped off by a movable stylus, leaving a dark line on the light gray screen.

The stylus is controlled by the two large knobs, one of which moves it vertically and the other horizontally; turning both knobs simultaneously creates diagonal lines.

To erase the picture, the artist turns the toy upside down and shakes it. Doing this causes polystyrene beads to smooth out and re-coat the inside surface of the screen with aluminum powder.

The "black" line merely exposes the darkness inside the toy. Filling in large "black" areas will allow enough light through to expose parts of the interior.

Most artists make their work permanent by removing the aluminium powder. This is done either by drilling holes in the bottom of the toy or by removing the entire plastic backing. It is then resealed as a semi-permanent, shake-resistant piece of art.

Minimal Royalties

Cassagnes originally applied for the patent application for the drawing toy concept in 1957. That same year, he won a top prize at the Paris Concurs International D’Inventions for this concept and drawing.

Unfortunately, he did not have the money to register his patent ($200). He acquired an investor by the name of Paul Chaze to be able to do this.

Chaze’s accountant Arthur Granjean filed the patent, which is why it is still under his name, and why most places state that he was the inventor.

Chaze somehow convinced Cassagnes to relinquish all rights to the Etch a Sketch, except for sales in France, for a mere $10,000.

Eventually, the Ohio Art Company purchased the rights to The Magic Screen for United States distribution for $25,000 from Chaze. The company has sold over 150 million units ever since then.

André Cassagnes also produced some of the most successful competition kites in France during the 1980s. He never became a rich man from any of his inventions.