The year was 1965, and Denys Fisher introduced the little ones to mathematics with a set of ridged plastic shapes known as Spirograph.
This amazing toy was nothing more than plastic circles and shapes with ridged edges (like gears) that created the most intricate designs when a pen traced the path of the small shape as it rolled along inside of the bigger circle.
It seemed so simple, and yet these two pieces of plastic and a pen miraculously created the most elaborate patterns of swirls and shapes.
They were clear plastic gears that you would stick your pen tips into to swirl around and create geometric quasi-psychedelic designs.
The weird thing about Spirograph was that you never knew when you were finished. Ultimately you would just go around and around and around until you eventually ripped a hole in your masterpiece with the pen.
The equipment looked like daunting engineering instruments yet was actually extremely easy to use.
Many parents actually confiscated Spirograph because older kids used to stick their younger siblings with the little bubble-headed pins which you used to hold the circley plastic bits down with . . . or maybe that was just me?
So parents thought they were being fantastic by buying ‘art’ toys like Spirographs, and not guns and stuff, thus making their child a loving and creative one. And then the wee devils that we are, we find ways of adapting them to injure our siblings. Initiative. I love it.
For the younger creative genius (not old enough for the pins) there was Spirotot – which had no weapons of retaliation included!
I remember the first Christmas I got a Spirograph. I lay on the lounge room floor all Christmas day drawing patterns while watching Billy Smarts Circus on the TV – and when I ran out of paper I dressed my Action Man in his orange frogman suit and went diving under the coffee table.
The Spirograph was dubbed “Toy of the Year” in 1967 and was quickly acquired by Kenner.
Spirograph still excites and educates (albeit subliminally) and has even added a modern twist.
All sorts of crazy neon plastic shapes make up today’s Spirograph, but the concept remains the same: the wonderful, seemingly magical (but mathematically sound) series of ridged circles and ellipses create the best in pre-Einstein years mixed with a little Warhol for good measure.