The Art Of Math – you could do that with SPIROGRAPH

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Spirograph is a geometric drawing toy that produces mathematical roulette curves of the variety technically known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. – Wikipedia

The Marvelous Wondergraph drawing (1907-1908) - Manufactured by E. I. Horsman Co., U.S.A.

The Marvelous Wondergraph drawing kit (1907-1908) – Manufactured by E. I. Horsman Co., U.S.A. (Photo: © The Strong)

A forerunner of the 1960s Spirograph, the 1908 Horsman WONDERGRAPH allowed kids to create roulette curves with the help of a mechanical device. It was sold through the Sears catalog in 1908.

Fast forward to 1962.

Inspired by a Victorian idea for creating patterns using cogs and wheels, an English mechanical engineer named Denys Fisher designed a tool originally intended as an industrial drafting instrument. Using perforated interlocking gears and the point of a pen, Fisher’s invention would trace sine and cosine waves by using the gears as a moving stencil. This idea never materialized – Fisher had another plan.

In 1965 Fisher introduced his repurposed invention at The Nuremberg International Toy Show – SPIROGRAPH was a hit.

Denys Fisher original Spirograph - 1965

Denys Fisher original SPIROGRAPH set – 1965 (Photo: Ralph Stephenson)

Unlike earlier mechanical geometric design drawing kits – i.e. the WONDERGRAPH – SPIROGRAPH’s varied cogs, wheels, and racks, allowed for more interactivity and hands-on play. The relative ease of use made it possible for people of all ages to feel that they too could create interesting bits of art.

Found Spirograph Drawings (1)

Found Spirograph Drawings (1) via Mike Leavenworth on Flickr: ‘We found a nearly complete Spirograph Set with these (essentially) flawless images – all on one page and no do-overs!’

Found Spirograph Drawings (2)

Found Spirograph Drawings (2) via Mike Leavenworth on Flickr

The mathematical formulas inherent in Spirographs are intuitively recognized by the user. The visible interplay between art and math helps teach logical pattern rules. In the UK, SPIROGRAPH won the Educational Toy of the Year three years running from 1965 to 1967 and became Toy of the Year in 1967.

1967 UK SPIROGRAPH Drawing Set - The British version manufactured by The Denys Fisher Toys Group contained instructions on how to create drawings of animals, including the owl pictured on the box.

1967 UK SPIROGRAPH Drawing Set – The British version manufactured by The Denys Fisher Toys Group contained instructions on how to create drawings of animals, including the owl pictured on the box. (Photo via Daily Mail)

In 1966 Kenner Toys purchased the marketing rights to SPIROGRAPH for American consumers. It became the number one selling toy in the US for Christmas in 1967.

Kenner's 1967 SPIROGRAPH Set

Kenner’s 1967 SPIROGRAPH Set (Photo via eBay)

In 1969 Kenner introduced SUPER SPIROGRAPH PLUS. This set included interlocking arced racks, a geared square, and a triangle, adding larger and even more interesting design possibilities.

The 1969 Kenner SUPER SPIROGRAPH PLUS

The 1969 Kenner SUPER SPIROGRAPH PLUS set (Photo via eBay)

Various other Spirograph-related products were sold, including a SPIROTOT (a Spirograph designed for toddlers), and various refill packages. Other Spirograph products included the Spiroscope, with a kaleidoscope capable of bringing new depth and view to your Spirograph drawings; a Sparkle Spirograph, featuring glitter pens; and a kinetic art Spirograph in which the pen swings on a pendulum, drawing the pattern with the power of physics. As of 2009, there are electronic versions of Spirograph for creating designs on the computer. Math Playground has an online version called, Spiromath – The Intersection of Math and Art – it can be found here.

Denys Fisher’s SPIROGRAPH has gone on to become an art design classic for the ages.

In 1970 Fisher sold his company to Hasbro (making SPIROGRAPH a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc.) and Fisher became a wealthy man. In 2002, the inventor of the Spirograph passed away at the age of 84. While Fisher the man may be gone, his legacy endures in the countless number of artists, mathematicians, and designers whom his drawing toy inspired throughout the years.

Sound Feelings believe in carrying on the SPIROGRAPH tradition and they market a ten color pen that features ‘the original “thin-style” ballpoint pen tips that are required to fit through the narrow holes of the Spirograph gears.’ Their promo graphics cover the virtues of Fisher’s invention.

Spirograph Learning Math Through ArtSPIROGRAPH, Eye-Hand Coordination

SPIROGRAPH, Universe Of PossibilitiesSPIROGRAPH, Like Life Itself

Nat is a bookbinder and crafter extraordinaire. After her husband gave her a vintage SPIROGRAPH set in 2011 she’s added it as another tool in her creativity tool-kit.

One of Nat's early SPIROGRAPH works: I couldn't help myself!  Of course I just had to draw one straight onto my current embroidery, and stitch it up.

One of Nat’s early SPIROGRAPH works: I couldn’t help myself!
Of course I just had to draw one straight onto my current embroidery, and stitch it up. (Photo: Smallest Forest)

Kathrin Jebsen-Marwedel is an artist who presents her love of illustration in Moleskine planners. She posted the entry below on Flickr in August 2009.

Fabulous SPIROGRAPH inspired illustration - Kathrin Jebsen-Marwedel's Moleskine Collection

Wonderful SPIROGRAPH inspired illustration – Kathrin Jebsen-Marwedel’s Moleskine Collection, 2009

This post ends with a splendid example of SPIROGRAPH in the early-21st century. Si Keshi created a multi-color multi-patterned design called, Spirograph Madness. Afterwords, using the basic Paint computer app, Keshi inverted the image creating Spirograph Madness Inverted. The original Spirograph Madness can be seen here. Denys Fisher would have been pleased.

Spirograph Madness Inverted - Si Keshi, 2008

Spirograph Madness Inverted – Si Keshi, 2008

Info Resources:
Retrowow UK
The Journal Of Antiques and Collectables
eHOW

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5 thoughts on “The Art Of Math – you could do that with SPIROGRAPH

    • It’s super that you’re introducing Spirograph to a newer generation. I think that even if people experience it once, the principles stay with them in a sort-of subconscious way. It’s a remarkable tool.

      Like

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