July 12 – Happy Birthday, Etch A Sketch!

Posted on July 12, 2016

When I was a kid, there were no smart phones or home computers (and precious few office computers, even), and black and white TV was a pretty nifty newish thing. We were pleased as punch to get FOUR DIFFERENT CHANNELS!

And then there was this toy that looked a bit like a TV!

Etch A Sketch had a screen, like a TV. And it had two knobs, like a TV. And it displayed shades of gray, like a B&W TV.

Best of all, it was nifty and new, like TV!

On this date in 1960, Etch A Sketch was introduced to the buying public for the low-low price of $2.99. Six hundred thousand of the toy sold that year. It went on to be one of the best-known toys of its era, and it has since been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, among other honors.

This is what the insides of an Etch A
Sketch looks like.
Basically, Etch A Sketch is a kind of plotter. The inside surface of the glass screen is coated with aluminum powder. There is a stylus (sort of a pointed object used to write or draw with) inside, too, and when you move the stylus using the knobs, it scrapes off the powder as it goes. That leaves a dark line on the light gray screen.

One knob moves the stylus vertically, and the other moves it horizontally. And when you move both together, you can get a diagonal line – although it's usually a bit crooked and shaky!

To erase the picture, you just turn the Etch A Sketch upside down and shake it. That allows the beads in the toy to smooth out, re-coating the entire screen with the aluminum powder.

It's kind of interesting to note that the “black” line is just exposing the darkness inside the toy. If you fill in a lot of the screen with “black” – you actually allow enough light in to light up parts of the interior!!

So, what kind of pictures can you make with an Etch A Sketch?

I did a lot of this sort of thing:

I didn't write anything this
cool, back when I was a kid,
but this looks a lot like my
level of lettering...
People a TON more skilled (and patient!) than me have created pieces like this, just using an Etch A Sketch!:

Also on this date:

Independence Day in Sao Tome and Principe

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