By Dave Garlock
When I was a kid, my parents drove my younger brother and me across the country several times. Our dad was a Navy officer and we moved a lot, often in an air conditioning-free, hideous two-tone blue Nash Rambler that looked like a large old-fashioned bathtub turned upside down, minus the legs.
When the founder of the legendary Etch A Sketch died earlier this year, it bought back one special car trip to me involving what some have called the “first iPad.”
Andre Cassagnes, a French electrical technician, had lived long enough to see his deviously-hard 9 ½ inch sketch pad, sitting on a rectangular silver-gray screen, surrounded by a red frame and two white knobs, voted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.
At the time of my car trip, no one could dream this brand new toy would post sales of more than 100 million and be considered one of the 100 top toys of the 20th Century and join 50 other toys, including the Hula Hoop, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, Barbie, Legos and Silly Putty in the Cooperstown for toys.
I also had no way of knowing how many parenting lessons I would learn the day my parents stopped at one of those tacky tourist traps in the Midwest and my kid brother wheedled my parents into buying him one of the little instruments of the devil.
As the older boy, I bought a much-more-useful set of Yakity-Yak Chattering Teeth, which used a spring-loaded wind-up mechanism to work non-stop — in my case for a thousand miles in the backseat. George quietly took to the Etch A Sketch like da Vinci took to frescos. Soon he was using the horizontal and vertical knobs to move the stylus and scrape out perfect outlines of the United States and the Statue of Liberty on the placid screen. He rarely needed the famous “shake” that removed all images on the screen and refigured the aluminum powder into pristine condition.
There was no ‘save button’ or a way to print your Etch A Sketch masterpiece at the time President Kennedy took office.
Through the unceasing noise of chattering teeth, my parents discussed how we could somehow frame his art or save it decades before Instagram or iPhones!
George’s left-and-right-brain skills and hand-eye coordination would later lead to college stardom in both golf and tennis and he would be a founding partner of the largest architectural firm in Las Vegas.
If only I could have known this at the time … my inability to draw a goat while he produced the Eiffel Tower in detail would not have seemed so horrible to me!
Ironically, if the Etch A Sketch always seemed like an underrated precursor to the first Apple computers introduced 15 years after this ingenious toy — no wonder: In 2009, the The Tech Report announced that Apple was about to introduce a new device called the iPad, and even called it “the Etch-a-Sketch of the future.”
Now Apple even has an “Etcher” App that converts an iPad into the classic Etch A Sketch, but allows you to save the drawings and e-mail them to your friends.
Apple sadly seems to have no plans to offer the classic 1960’s Chattering Teeth as an App.