Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy Birthday Ohio Art: Makers of the Etch A Sketch Turn 100

One of my favorite toys from childhood was a the Etch A Sketch -- and it's not just cuz I'm a born and bred Buckeye. More than 150 million Etch A Sketches have been sold by the Bryan, Ohio-based Ohio Art Co. since the toy was introduced in 1960. Ohio Art, founded in Archbold, Ohio in 1908, will mark its 100th anniversary this month (October).

The toy was first developed by a French electrician and then perfected by Ohio Art's engineers. Since the toy's introduction in 1960, some enterprising folks have developed an amazing level of skill and creativity with the device, using Etch A Sketches to create remarkably detailed drawings.

Ohio Art was founded by a dentist who decided to put his plaster casting skills to different use. The company moved to Bryan in 1912 and installed metal lithography equipment to begin stamping picture frames from wood-grained metal. From there, it was an easy step in 1917 to begin stamping metal toys -- Ohio Art's first toy line debuted with windmills and moved on to climbing monkeys, miniature tea sets and -- to the horror of parents everywhere -- drums. Many of the company's earliest toys have become collectibles -- some with very cult-like followings.

Etch A Sketch is probably Ohio Art’s best known creation, but its current lineup of toys also includes the Betty Spaghetty dolls, Magna Doodle, Doodle Doug and K’s Kids infant and toddler toys. Sixty percent of the company’s products go to just five big retailers, including Wal-Mart and Toys R Us. In fact, it was Wal-Mart's persistent pressure on the bottom line that eventually forced Ohio Art to move its toy production to China. The company held out until the 1990s, when they were one of the last toy manufacturers to capitulate. K’s Kids is the company’s way of offering toys created especially for small, independently owned mom-and-pop stores -- more power to Ohio Art there.

A little over 100 people work at Ohio Art’s Bryan site, which also sports a busy metal lithography operation that accounts for almost a third of their business. The company makes specialty metal containers for everything from perfume to liquor, DVDs to chewing tobacco

Ohio Art has recently developed a very special package of its own — the tin box that will contain the anniversary Etch A Sketch it has unveiled in conjunction with its centennial. The Etch A Sketch will be featured on QVC -- and the holidays are just around the corner!

Happy Birthday, Ohio Art -- and many happy returns. Keep doing your best to keep those home-grown Buckeye jobs on American soil, and keep making children happy all over the world. Me, I'll continue to keep my mini Etch A Sketch on my desk at work -- for stress relief and lighter moments. :)

Draw your own Etch A Sketch creation!

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

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