Innovative Spirit

The Patents Behind Toy Story’s Beloved Characters

The Pixar series is full of classic toys, from the Slinky Dog to the Speak & Spell, that sprung from the minds of clever inventors

Slinky Dog and its cousin, Slinky Train, were allegedly inspired by inventor Helen Malsed's 6-year-old son, who wanted to see what would happen if his Christmas Slinky had wheels attached. (Aykut67/iStock)

With Toy Story 4 in theaters later this month, we’ve been thinking about toys. They’re as old as civilization. Neolithic kids are presumed to have played with sticks and clay balls. Ancient Egyptian children had a game resembling jacks. Children of China’s Zhou Dynasty flew kites. Medieval European kids played war with miniature soldiers.

But it wasn’t until the 20th century that toys began to be mass marketed—and therefore, patented. The classic playthings of the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s featured in the Toy Story series come from the golden age of toy innovation. We’ve searched the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office archives for the original patents and backstories on the now-beloved Toy Story characters.

Etch A Sketch

(U.S. Patent 3,055,113)

Shiny red Etch A Sketch—“Sketch” in the movies—uses his writing ability to send messages to the toy team. The venerable Etch A Sketch was invented by French electrical technician André Cassagnes, who was inspired by a serendipitous encounter at work in a wallcovering factory. Cassagnes made some pencil marks on a protective decal while installing a light-switch plate, and saw that the marks were visible on the other side of the decal. This was because the pencil had made lines through particles of a metallic powder produced in the factory, which were stuck to the decal through static. Inspired, Cassagnes developed a toy based on the same principle, which he received a patent for in 1962 under the name of his accountant, Arthur Granjean. He would sell the rights for $25,000 to the Ohio Art Company, which made it an everlasting bestseller.  


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus