So I'm in line behind about a hundred people ... ok, five ... and only one of four registers is manned ... accurate accounting. I'm looking for things to fill my time ... looking for trash in my wallet, checking what year my driver's license expires, etc. ... when I start pawing through the gum, candy, and miscellaneous crap along Aisle #1.
And then I strike gold ... a "fancy" pen with a mini Etch A Sketch on top. I loved my Etch A Sketch when I was a kid. It was the first real "art" toy I ever received aside from crayons and markers. It was both frustrating and fantastic because your "art" was limited by the simplicity of the toy, and if you did you had to be so careful because of bump or shake and your masterpiece was ruined!
For those of you not "in the loop," the Etch A Sketch is a toy marketed by The Ohio Art Company (the Buckeye State strikes again!) that almost every kid had, either a new one or a unit passed from kid to kid like in my family. It is a hand-held toy that is a simple screen filled with aluminum powder. Simple knob controls ... one for a vertical stylus and one for a horizontal stylus ... allow users to create simple lines by displacing the powder, this producing a "sketchy" dark line. Images were erased by simply shaking the toy, redistributing the powder inside. The toy was made of sturdy red plastic, but over the years Ohio Art has marketed different colored versions ... I even have an anniversary edition unit made of high-polished chrome. It looks like something from Star Trek.
Ohio Art is actually pretty lucky to have the Etch A Sketch in its family of success stories. The concept was originally created by a French inventor in the late 1950s. Called a l'ecran magique, or magic screen, the inventor met with execs from Ohio Art at a toy fair in Germany in 1959 to present his product. The company was intrigued but passed on the invention. For some reasons, a few Ohio Art higher-ups took a second look at the unique concept. They purchased the rights and rushed the toy into production to make the 1960 Christmas shopping season.
Over the years, Ohio Art has attempted to update the Etch A Sketch to include color (six colors and the ability to produce hard copies of your creations) and even rudimentary animation (Etch A Sketch Animator and Etch A Sketch Animator 2000). But like many great icons of the baby boomer generation, the toy's original concept is much more popular than any technological add-ons and is what still makes it a great seller today. The Etch A Sketch is considered one of the 100 most memorable and creative toys of the 20th century by the International Toy Industry Association. And ironically, this week marks the 50th anniversary of some of the first Sketch units to go from factory to the hands of U.S. consumers.
I bought 14 of those damn pens because I thought they would make great gifts. I also purchased them because the Etch A Sketch has a very special place in my heart. When I got my first job out of graduate school at a newspaper, I pitched an idea for a feature on up-and-coming toy trends. My editor loved the idea and wanted ideas for collateral pieces. Well, I just happened to know a guy ... a good friend, actually ... who worked for Ohio Art. He got me access to two company vice presidents, a great tour of the facilities (before they relocated to Asia), and even hooked me up with an artist who created literal artistic masterpieces on this basic toy and then used an injected sealant process to freeze the images. You should have seen this dude's house ... Etch A Sketch "paintings" everywhere ... it was so cool!!
That little adventure got me two major features in the newspaper ... with bylines. And when I made the trip to The Ohio Art Company in Bryan, Ohio, I made a side trip to the Spangler Candy Company and met another new love of my life ... the Dum-Dum sucker.
POINT OF RANT: Sometimes ... only sometimes ... Ohio rules!!