A Spirograph is a drawing toy that produces geometric mathematical curves and shapes. It was developed by British engineer Denys Fisher and first sold back in 1965.
“Spirograph” term has also been used to describe a variety of software applications that display similar curves. It has also been applied to the class of curves that can be produced with the drawing equipment, the name has been a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc., since they took over and bought the Denys Fisher company.
So who exactly invented the weird and wonderful Spirograph? Well a mathematician Bruno Abakanowicz invented the spirograph between 1881 and 1900. It was used to for calculating an area delimited by curves. Drawing toys based on gears fixed to paper have been around since at least 1908, when The Marvelous Wondergraph was advertised in the Sears catalog. An article describing how to make a Wondergraph drawing machine appeared in the Boys Mechanic publication in 1913.
The Spirograph itself was developed by the British engineer Denys Fisher, who exhibited it at the 1965 Nuremberg International Toy Fair. It was subsequently produced by his company. The US distribution rights were acquired by Kenner, Inc., which brought it to the United States market in 1966 and promoted it as a creative children’s drawing toy.
In 1968, Kenner expanded the range by introducing Spirotot, a more basic version of Spirograph, aimed at the preschool-age market who were too young for Spirograph.
The original US-released Spirograph consisted of two different-sized plastic rings, with gear teeth on both the inside and outside of their circumferences. They were pinned to a cardboard backing with pins, and any of several provided gearwheels, which had holes provided for a ballpoint pen so you can press it through and decide which color you like through the gears to make colourful designs appear easily on the paper.
A number of geometric shapes were later released so the Super-Spirograph consisted of a set of plastic gears and other interlocking shape-segments such as rings, triangles, or longer bars bars. It has several different sizes of gears and shapes, all of the edges have teeth to engage with the other pieces. So you could easily place the smaller gears inside the larger rings but also do a couple of small rings around the larger ring edges, the result is many rotations and crazy designs of interlinked shape designs.
To use the low tech spirograph simply place a sheet of paper is placed on a heavy cardboard backing, and one of the plastic pieces, these are secured via pins or reusable adhesive to the paper and cardboard. Another plastic piece—called the rotor—is placed so that its teeth engage with those of the pinned piece.
The point of a pen is placed in one of the holes of the rotor. As the rotor is moved, the pen traces out a curve. The pen is used both to draw and to provide force; some practice is required before the Spirograph can be operated without disengaging the stator and rotor. More complex and unusual-shaped patterns may be made through the use of both hands, one to draw and one to guide the pieces.
Sales of the Spirograph were highest during the late 60’s and throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s several different versions and material based versions have also been released over time. I can remember them fondly as sometimes a bit fiddly to set-up with the pins but maybe I was too eager to get on and ‘design’ sometimes my movements of the pen or pencil caused a few pins to fly and the paper to need changing for a new un-torn sheet.