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Etch A Sketch creator Andre Cassagnes dies

By Phil Gast and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 12:03 AM EST, Mon February 4, 2013
When Jane Labowitch heard of the news of Andre Cassagnes' passing, she says she wanted to pay tribute to a great inventor.
When Jane Labowitch heard of the news of Andre Cassagnes' passing, she says she wanted to pay tribute to a great inventor.
  • AndrĂ© Cassagnes came up with the drawing toy
  • He died January 16 in a Paris suburb
  • The Etch A Sketch made its debut at a European Toy Fair in 1959
  • The toy's "magic screen" is on the "Century of Toys" list

Editor's note: Share your Etch A Sketch memories and tributes via CNN's iReport

(CNN) -- While tinkering in his garage, French electrician Andre Cassagnes dreamed up a drawing toy that kids could shake up and start over.

Little did he know that more than 50 years later, the toy that became the Etch A Sketch would continue to delight children.

Cassagnes died January 16 in a Paris suburb at age 86, according to a statement released Saturday by The Ohio Art Company. His cause of his death was not disclosed.

Cassagnes created what would become the Etch A Sketch in his garage in 1950. The drawing toy was made up of a joystick, glass and aluminum powder.

Initially dubbed the Telecran, the toy was renamed L'Ecran Magique, or 'The Magic Screen,' and made its debut at a toy fair in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1959.

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The Etch A Sketch campaign

Fascinated by the invention, American Henry Winzeler, founder and president of The Ohio Art Company, licensed L'Ecran Magique for $25,000 and introduced it as Etch A Sketch in the United States in 1960.

Winzeler connected Cassagnes with Jerry Burger, an engineer at the company, so they could collaborate to improve the toy's drawing capability.

Among the changes made to the Etch A Sketch in 1960 was replacing the joystick with two white knobs in the left and right corners of the screen. The idea was to make the toy look like the hot new adult toy of the time: a television.

It quickly became the most popular selling toy during the Christmas season that year, according to the manufacturer. Since then, the company has sold more than 150 million of them.

A mainstay in popular culture

The toy has remained a mainstay in popular culture thanks in part to appearances in 1995's "Toy Story" movie and the 1999 sequel, "Toy Story 2."

The toy was thrust into the political spotlight during last year during a highly publicized gaffe by Mitt Romney's senior campaign adviser, who compared his candidate's positions to an Etch A Sketch.

"I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes," the aide said. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.""

The Ohio Art Company seized on the publicity, manufacturing red and blue Etch A Sketches during the campaign season.

The toy's "magic screen" was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, and it was added by the Toy Industry Association to its "Century of Toys" list in 2003.

"I remember making works of art of the Etch A Sketch as a child, in hindsight -- realizing that they were merely poorly drawn stick figures," said Larry Killgallon, the current president of The Ohio Art Company. "Nonetheless, I, as well as many others, owe thanks to Mr. Cassagnes for a toy embedded in so many of my childhood memories."

Cassanges went on to become a well-known kite-maker, developing a series of ring-shaped kites to celebrate the Olympic Games.

He is survived by his wife, Renee.

Readers react

The news of the death prompted many to go to their basements and dig out their decades-old Etch A Sketch.

CNN reader Lawrence Garcia said it was a toy "I could always get lost in."

"I would lay there on the floor in amazement of the device and wonder what it was made of," Garcia said. "Remember, this was back in the day of true wonderment, and since we didn't really have a way to get instant info, we just made up whatever our minds could create."

Jane Labowitch, a 21-year-old art student in Chicago, said she has played with an Etch A Sketch since she was 4 years old.

"I love doing all kinds of art, but there is something really unique to Etch A Sketch," she said. "It's one of those timeless toys that everyone seems to have some sort of nostalgic connection to."

So it was fitting that Labowitch would remember Cassagnes with an Etch A Sketch of him.

"I owe so much to this man," she said in a submission to CNN's iReport. "He's responsible for countless hours of joy and opening doors in my life that I never knew existed."

Share your favorite memories of the Etch A Sketch in the comment section below.

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