On this day, July 12, in 1960, Etch a Sketch debuted and went on to become one of the best selling toys in the 20th Century, being inducted in 1998 into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY. Originally, it sold for $2.99. Now it’s about $15 at Wal-Mart or $3.99 at a thrift store. It’s probably been eclipsed by electronic tablets for kids that are a lot easier to use—and take a lot less planning and coordination.
As a kid, I was never very good with it. Managing the sideways with the up and down took a certain amount of brain power I didn’t have back then. I was the kid who called a gas station a Volkswagen, because there was the common thing called a “Station wagon” the linked those two and confused me. Or we’d be driving through the mountains and I see a waterfall cascading (of course I didn’t think of “cascading” then) down the side of a cliff and say, “Hey everybody, look at the watermelon.” My patience for the Etch A Sketch was never in abundance, so I only got a few squiggly sideways lines then gave up and went on to play with my ersatz Barbie doll. By high school I’d figured out the knobs well enough to make a half decent picture for my baby sister, but nothing worth saving. But some people do amazing things with the Etch A Sketch. There’s aluminum powder inside that coats the glass screen. The stylus scrapes it off, leaving a black line. Polystyrene beads are inside, and when you shake them around, they recoat the inside surface with the aluminum powder, erasing whatever pathetic effort is on there. But if you make a masterpiece, you can drill a hole in the back and get out the beads, then seal it up and sell them for something like $100,000, as George Vlosich has done; he’s the artist of the Mayberry artwork featured. Pretty incredible, the work he's done. If I'd known how lucrative it could be, maybe I would have spent a little more time working with those horizontal and vertical maneuvers.
So Happy Birthday Etch A Sketch. Talking about it makes me kind of want to go to the Good Will and find one and take another crack at it. I can just feel those knobs in my hands.
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