Skip to Main Navigation Skip to Content
A daily look back at the toys, games, and objects that captured our attention as children and continue to fascinate us today.
Shop for Bespoke Merchandise
Support independent toy stores

Magic Designer from Northern Signal Company (1950s)

In the 1930s, Magic Designer was a popular precision drawing toy geared towards kids and adults – and was likely an inspiration for Spirograph 30 years later. The toy was originally called “Hoot Nanny” by its inventor, Howard Bevan Jones, and manufactured at his Chicago-based company. In the mid-1950s, Saukville, Wisconsin-based Northern Signal Company acquired the rights and gave it the more marketing-savvy name, “Magic Designer.”

Every Magic Designer set came with a metal base, pencils, special die-cut paper discs, and an instruction booklet. The toy was extremely simple to setup and operate. Simply place a pencil into the jointed metal arms and drop a paper disc on the platter to start creating symmetrical, looping designs through the turn of a crank.

New designs could be created by modifying the toy’s settings, controlled with two crank pins and a shift lever. To get the creative juices flowing, an instruction booklet provided settings for several intricate patterns. Of course, this was only the tip of the design iceberg, as advertisements from the time lauded the Magic Designer’s ability to create “millions of different designs.”

Explore classic toys and games that captured our attention and never let go.