Toy, Spirograph

Toy, Spirograph

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The Spirograph is a geometric drawing toy that produces mathematical curves known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. It was developed by British engineer Denys Fisher.
Drawing toys based on gears have been around since at least 1908, when The Marvelous Wondergraph was advertised in the Sears catalog. An instrument called a spirograph was invented by the mathematician Bruno Abdank-Abakanowicz between 1881 and 1900 for drawing spirals (see the catalog of the Conservatoire des Artes et Metiers in Paris). Another Frencheman, Bataille, patented such an instrument in March of 1887.
Fisher first exhibited the Spirograph in 1965 at the Nuremberg International Toy Fair and produced it in Britain. Kenner, Inc., acquired U.S. distribution rights, introducing it in this country in 1966 as a creative toy for drawing "a million marvelous patterns."
The set includes eighteen transparent plastic wheels, two transparent plastic rings, two transparent plastic bars, two ballpoint pens (blue and black), four pins in a plastic case, a thumbtack, a miscellaneous metal piece, and an instructional pamphlet. Most of the pieces fit in a blue storage tray which in turn is in a cardboard box with cover.
To draw a desired shape, one must select one of the smaller wheels to be placed within one of the two larger wheels. All wheels have teeth on the edges, like gears, and can be rotated around the larger wheels. Then one puts a pen through one of the small holes on the small wheel and draws on the paper while turning the small wheel around the inner circumference of the large wheel. The rotational motion of the small wheel translates into a pattern that the pen draws on the paper. A small booklet lists various shapes and procedures for drawing them. Every small wheel has several holes through which to put a pen point, allowing several different designs per small wheel.
This particular version was made by Kenner Products Co. in 1967. It won three awards: The Educational Toy of the Year Award (U.K.), Design Idea of the Month (Design News, U.S.A.), and Artistic Toy (Paris).
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
date made
ca 1967
Kenner Products Company
place made
United States: Ohio, Cincinnati
Physical Description
plastic (base, gears, wheels material)
paper (box material)
metal (pen part material)
overall: 3.1 cm x 33.5 cm x 26 cm; 1 7/32 in x 13 3/16 in x 10 1/4 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Sherman L. and Marjorie A. Naidorf
Mathematical Recreations
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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