Inventor of Etch A Sketch draws his last
Etch A Sketch inventor Andre Cassagnes developed the idea while tinkering in his garage. Photo: uncredited
Andre Cassagnes, who has died aged 86, was the inventor of Etch A Sketch, a mechanical drawing device that proved to be one of the most popular children's toys of the past half century.
The Etch A Sketch has a flat grey screen framed in red plastic, and the appearance of a small television set. Two knobs at each of the lower corners of the device move a stylus that displaces aluminium powder on the back of the screen, allowing lines to be drawn as if "magically" on the screen. The left-hand knob moves the stylus horizontally, the right one vertically. If a child is dissatisfied with his or her "doodle", it can be erased simply by shaking the device.
Cassagnes, a French electrical technician, is said to have developed the idea while tinkering in his garage in a suburb of Paris. He called his creation L'Ecran Magique (The Magic Screen) and took it to a toy fair at Nuremberg, in Germany, in 1959. Representatives of the Ohio Toy Company saw it at the fair, but decided not to pursue it; the company's founder and president, Henry Winzeler, however, was intrigued, and licensed the device for $25,000.
After introducing some refinements - for example, the two control knobs were substituted for Cassagnes's original "joystick" - Winzeler's company launched the toy in the US in time for Christmas 1960 under the name Etch A Sketch. It was an immediate success, and has since sold more than 150 million.
The son of a baker, Andre Cassagnes was born near Paris on September 23, 1926. In his teens he helped out at the bakery, but is said to have suffered from an allergy to flour that compelled him to seek alternative work. It was while he was employed as an electrician for a French manufacturer of artificial seat and picture frame coverings that he came across aluminium powder. The genesis of L'Ecran Magique came when he was peeling a decal (a transfer) from a switch plate and noticed that pencil marks he had made had transferred from one surface to another.
Cassagnes could not afford to take out a patent, and continued to work as an electrical technician for the same French company until he retired in 1987. Etch A Sketch was made in Ohio until the company moved the manufacturing plant to China in 2001. Its continuing popularity was helped by its featuring in the film Toy Story (1995) and the sequel Toy Story 2 (1999). It was named one of the top 100 toys of the 20th century by the American Toy Association.
In 1977 Cassagnes became fascinated by kite-flying after watching a kite being flown above a beach in Normandy. He began to design them for competitive events, becoming France's best-known kite-maker.
He is survived by his wife, Renee, and their daughter and two sons.
The Daily Telegraph