The Ohio Art Company, which makes Etch A Sketch, announced the death.
A chance inspiration involving metal particles and the tip of a pencil led Mr. Cassagnes to develop Etch A Sketch in the late 1950s. First marketed in 1960, the toy — with its rectangular gray screen, red frame and two white knobs — quickly became one of the brightest stars in the constellation of midcentury childhood amusements that included Lincoln Logs and the Slinky.
Etch A Sketch was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester in 1998; in 2003, the Toy Industry Association named it one of the hundred best toys of the 20th century. To date, more than 100 million have been sold.
The toy received renewed attention in March, amid the 2012 presidential campaign, after Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney, described his boss’s campaign strategy heading from the primaries into the general election thus:
“Everything changes,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
The quotation, pilloried by Democrats and Republicans alike, was widely interpreted as an acknowledgment by the Romney campaign that its candidate had no fixed political ideology.
The complete eradicability of an Etch A Sketch drawing is born of the toy’s simple, abiding technology.
The underside of the screen is coated with a fine aluminum powder. The knobs control a stylus hidden beneath the screen; turning them draws the stylus through the powder, scraping it off in vertical or horizontal lines that appear on the screen as if by magic. (An early French name for the toy was L’Écran Magique, “Magic Screen.”)
To erase the image, the user shakes the toy, recoating the screen with aluminum; tiny plastic beads mixed with the powder keep it from clumping.
That is essentially all there is to an Etch A Sketch, and though the toy now comes in various sizes, shapes and colors, its inner workings have changed little since Mr. Cassagnes first touched a pencil to a powder-coated sheet on an otherwise ordinary day more than five decades ago.
André Cassagnes was born in 1926 outside Paris and as a boy worked in the bakery his parents owned. As a young man, he took a job as an electrical technician in a factory that made Lincrusta, a deeply embossed covering applied to walls and other surfaces to mimic sculptural bas-relief.
One day in the late ’50s, as was widely reported afterward, Mr. Cassagnes was installing a light-switch plate at the factory. He peeled the translucent protective decal off the new plate, and happened to make some marks on it in pencil. He noticed that the marks became visible on the reverse side of the decal.
In making its faux finishes, the Lincrusta factory also used metallic powders; Mr. Cassagnes’s pencil had raked visible lines through particles of powder, which clung naturally to the decal by means of an electrostatic charge.
Mr. Cassagnes spent the next few years perfecting his invention, which was introduced in 1959 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. (Because the toy was patented by Arthur Granjean, an accountant working for one of Mr. Cassagnes’s early investors, Mr. Granjean is sometimes erroneously credited as the inventor of Etch A Sketch.)
After Ohio Art acquired the rights to the toy for $25,000, Mr. Cassagnes worked with the company’s chief engineer, Jerry Burger, to refine its design. Where Mr. Cassagnes’s original had been operated with a joystick, the final version mimicked the look of the reigning household god of the day — the television set. It soon became the company’s flagship product.
In later years, Mr. Cassagnes designed kites; by the 1980s, he was considered France’s foremost maker of competition kites, which can perform elaborate aerial stunts.
Mr. Cassagnes’s survivors include his wife, Renée, and three children, Sophie, Patrick and Jean Claude, according to European news accounts.
In the 1980s, Ohio Art introduced an electronic version of Etch A Sketch, which let users make animated drawings. But the mechanical version endures, buoyed by periodic appearances in movies like “Toy Story.”
It has been taken up by fine artists, who, through planning, patience and extreme dexterity, have cajoled the device into rendering the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and a spate of minutely detailed original images.
Ohio Art, which for decades manufactured Etch A Sketch at its home in Bryan, Ohio, moved production of the toy to China in late 2000. But in the wake of Mr. Fehrnstrom’s comment last year, the company delivered an emblematically American response:
Though it continues to be made with its venerable red frame, Etch A Sketch now also comes in blue, for Democrats.