Recently, we received a large collection of products made by the Ohio Art Company. Most famous for the Etch-A-Sketch, this company has been making lithographs and toys since 1908; this donation has objects spanning 70 years of the company’s products. While some of these objects were undoubtedly easy to find, other very rare objects took a lot of searching for the donor to find and date.
Who is the Ohio Art Company and what do they make? In 1908, the company was founded in Archbold, Ohio, by Henry Winzeler, who decided that making oval metal frames would be more interesting career path than dentistry. Lithographic prints from Germany were inserted into these frames and sold by companies like Sears, Roebuck & Co. In 1912, Winzeler relocated Ohio Art to its current corporate location in Bryan, Ohio, and began making lithographic prints, the most famous of which was the Cherub Awake and Cherub Asleep series. A few years later, in part due to the halt on German imports because of WWI, Ohio Art entered the toy industry. Banks, small coaster wagons and carts, spinning tops, and tea sets were just some of the toys that they began making in 1917.
Ohio Art employed talented artists like Fern Bisel Peat, a famous children’s book illustrator during the 1930s and 1940s, in their lithographic department, producing intricate artwork on tea sets and other toys. Ohio Art also partnered with Disney to depict their cartoon characters on Ohio Art
toys. This partnership continued for several decades. With the advent of World War II in 1941, the Ohio Art Company suspended toy production, switching to producing metal parts for rockets, bombs, and aircraft. When they returned to making toys following the end of the War, plastics began to be incorporated into the production of new toys.
The early 1960s brought much success to the company. In 1959, Ohio Art bought the rights to the “Telecran” from Frenchman Andre Cassagnes. He and the company’s chief engineer, Jerry Burger, spent time perfecting the design before it was released in 1960 under the name “Etch-A-Sketch.” This drawing toy quickly became Ohio Art’s most iconic and popular toy, with Sears, Roebuck & Co. selling ten million of them in the 1960s alone. Etch-A-Sketch was one of the many successes the company had during the 1960s; they also began making metal signs and trays for Coca-Cola, including those featuring the famed Coca-Cola Santa Claus.
The Ohio Art Company continued making popular toys throughout the next few decades, including the Betty Spaghetty doll in 1998 and the A.R.M. 4000XL, a toy water gun, in 2003. However, not all of their products were successful, and in the 1980s and 1990s, Ohio Art experienced enough financial difficulty to prompt worries over its closure. The company was forced to move production to China. With the Etch-A-Sketch prominently featured in scenes in Toy Story in 1995 and Toy Story 2 in 1999, sales sky-rocketed and the Ohio Art Company was saved. Ohio Art continues to be a successful toy company today, though toys are no longer produced in Ohio.
This Ohio Art collection is an exciting and diverse collection that conjures memories of youth hood for multiple generations. It helps illustrate the story of production and industry in Ohio and how companies have had to change based on financially and social circumstances.
Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern
Interested in learning more about the Ohio Art Company?
Funding Universe. “The Ohio Art Company History.” Funding Universe. 2004. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/the-ohio-art-company- history/.
Hub Pages. “Entertainment History: The Toys of Ohio Art Company.” Hub Pages. 2013. http://pattyinglishms.hubpages.com/hub/The-Toys-of-Ohio-Art-Company.
Ohio Art. “Ohio Art Has History.” Ohio Art. 2014. http://www.ohioart.com/history.
Playground Professionals. “Ohio Art Company.” Playground Professionals, LLC. 2010. http://www.playgroundprofessionals.com/o/ohio-art-company.