One of the great things about writing a blog is that sometimes the research you’re doing leads to a more interesting story than you originally planned. Such is the case of today subject, the Magic Slate pad.

Yes, you did do that, Steve. Yes, you certainly did.

If you grew up taking road trips from the 50s to the early 90s, chances are at one time or another you had one of these toys whose idea was rather simple: a sheet of somewhat opaque plastic film was overlaid on a piece of thing cardboard covered in a colored wax (usually black or blue).

Magic Slates came with a writing stylus made out of wood or plastic that you used to press down on the plastic film which stuck to the waxed paper underneath making it look darker where you drew or wrote.

To delete what you wrote, you simply lifted the plastic film off of the wax paper and the film was blank again, ready for your next drawing or secret message.

Simply lift the plastic “paper” and your drawing or message magically disappears!

The story of the Magic Slate starts to get interesting right from the beginning. In the early 1920s, the owner of a corset factory, Mr. R.A. Watkins was approached by a man looking to sell the rights to an invention he called the “Paper Saver” – a simple home-made device made from tissue and wax cardboard. The owner of the plant told the inventor that he’d like to sleep on it and would let him know first thing in the morning. However, the inventor was arrested that very same night, so he called Mr. Watkins and said he would give him the rights to the invention if Watkins would pay his bail. Watkins agreed.

Unfortunately, soon after Mary had all four Beatles autograph her Magic Slate, her brother needed something to write his girlfriend’s phone number on.

Watkins tweaked the invention a little, replacing the tissue with a piece of opaque plastic film and got better results.  He had planned to use the paper saver at work for doing inventory, creating timesheets and other things that would, indeed, save paper in the factory. However, while applying for the patent, he took the invention home where his kids starting playing with it. Watkins immediately saw where the real money was in this invention, renamed it the Magic Slate Paper Saver and made millions.

Obviously, this particular Magic Slate belonged to Eve Plumb.

There was a time when every cartoon character, comic book hero, movie or TV show was licensed with a Magic Slate of their very own. Nearly every Hanna Barbara character from the Flintstones to the Jetsons had one, as did Mickey Mouse and the rest of Disney gang, Snoopy and his Peanuts pals, and all the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes characters, too. Television shows like The Munsters, Welcome Back, Kotter and Land of the Lost, and pop stars from the Beatles to The New Kids on the Block appeared on their own Magic Slates at one time or another.  Though they’ve been replaced nowadays by hand-held video games and smartphones, you can still get them today on eBay where they can fetch anywhere from $4.99 for a Little Lulu Magic Slate to $999 one licensed from the Dark Shadows TV show.

That’s right. Your 39 cent investment now goes for nearly $1,000 on eBay today.

Now, this is where the story of the Magic Slate gets even more interesting. You see, sometimes a toy is all fun and games, but sometimes it serves yet another purpose, as the Magic Slate once did.

Somehow Mr. Spock never really had a chance to showcase his wonderful sense of humor aboard the USS Enterprise.

During the Cold War of the 1960s, the Russians presented a carved wooden likeness of the Great Seal of the United States; however, it was suspected that hidden somewhere on the seal, and undetectable to the naked eye, was a hidden listening device. This suspicion meant that everyone who worked in the embassy had to assume everything they said was being listened to. Staying one step ahead of the Russians, the embassy brought in Magic Slates from America; after all, they were cheap enough, provided a way for workers to silently communicate with each other, and any information written down could be deleted with a quick flick of the wrist.

“Why, yes, Boris dahlink, I see moose and squirrel did leave plastic pointy thing to write secret message behind.”

It would serve the world of espionage once again in 1987 when the Soviets once more bugged the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.   While visiting the U.S. Embassy that year, Rep. Dan Mica, D-Fla., and Rep. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, used the pads to communicate  to each other – Mica carrying a Winnie the Pooh slate and Snowe carrying a Rainbow Brite one.

Eventually word of their use got back to Western Publishing Co., the manufacturer of the toys at the time, prompting their spokesperson, Kim McLynn, to state ″We always knew they had practical uses, but we never dreamed they’d play a role in national security.″ As a result, they sent several crates containing thousands of Magic Slates to the State Department, the CIA, and even President Reagan.

And that’s the story of how a backseat toy once saved democracy in America.

“We salute you, Magic Slate!”

Speaking of espionage, I spy with my little eye a sign that says there’s a Stuckey’s location just ahead. Let’s pull in and grab a couple of their new, bigger 10 inch, 10 ounce Stuckey’s pecan log rolls for the road ahead. While were there we might as well get some of their fine pecan candy for our family and friends. You know they’ll be expecting it.  And with the holidays coming soon, let’s pick up a few hats, t-shirts and mugs. They’ll make great gifts for the office Christmas gift exchange.

Don’t worry. If we forget anybody we can always go to stuckeys.com and have them deliver anything from their wide selection of Stuckey’s merchandise. Now pass me one them Stuckey’s pecan logs and let’s get back on the road.