‘The Battle Over the Sea-Monkey Fortune’: An Amazing Read!!

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Who remembers Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys?! Ok, who ordered Sea-Monkeys from an ad in the back of a comic book like this…?!

Sea Monkeys vintage ad


There was so much promise in that ad, especially since Sea-Monkeys are just microscopic, glorified BRINE SHRIMP!! 

In fact, this is what Sea-Monkeys REALLY look like…


image via Master Marf

I’m not even kidding!! No smiling faces! No little crowns! Yet, so delightful!

The marketing genius behind Sea-Monkeys, an eccentric inventor and entrepreneur by the name of Harold von Braunhut, died in 2003 but his insta-aqua-pet products (and his widow) are caught up in a messy court fight. 

Jack Hitt of the New York Times Magazine details the story in a recent article titled, “The Battle Over the Sea-Monkey Fortune.” Amazing read. Here’s a snippet:

A few years after her husband’s death in 2003, Signorelli von Braunhut licensed out part of the labor of his multimillion dollar Sea-Monkey enterprise, mostly packaging and distribution, to Big Time. If you’ve ever been 8 years old, then you know that Sea-Monkeys arrive in a small plastic aquarium with several small packets that include the tiny brine-shrimp critters, which reanimate once you add water — by way of a secret formula that Signorelli von Braunhut keeps locked in a vault in Manhattan.

The original deal held that Big Time would supply everything except the specially engineered critters — and the accompanying packets, which von Braunhut would manufacture and sell separately to Big Time, which would then bundle the full kits and handle the sales. Also in the contract was a second deal — to buy the company, including the secret formula. It allowed Big Time to pay a straight-up $5 million fee and then $5 million more in installments. Three winters ago, Big Time called up the widow and announced that it considered its previous payments for the packets to be a kind of layaway deal for the company and that, as far as Big Time was concerned, it now owned the Sea-Monkey franchise.

Look at this! The “grand estate built by Sea-Monkeys” in Maryland boasts this wrought-iron gate!!


photo by Justine Kurland for NYT

Could you die?!

This was another interesting bit from the article:

Joe Orlando, who would later achieve fame at DC Comics and Mad Magazine, illustrated the cover art. The image itself is famous. You know it: a Sea-Monkey family with three antennas wagging on their heads and long paddle tails lounging outside their underwater castle. Von Braunhut took his new marketing to the back page of comics — the one place where he could bypass parental skepticism and speak directly to children’s imaginations.

His campaign was a textbook case of what we now call “cognitive priming.” That is, the deep cerebral desire we all have to see what we expect to see. So when you buy a Sea-Monkey kit, you get the tiny plastic aquarium and fitted into the sides are little magnifying lenses that enhance the tiny brine shrimp just enough, setting off a little motion picture in your head of itty-bitty primates swinging to and fro by their curved tails, gamboling in a watery jungle. The real innovation may never have been the secret formula of his brine shrimp but the cognitive ignition of those four perfect words of distilled humbuggery: Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys.

Want to hatch your own Sea-Monkey family in their Ocean Zoo? Of course you do! They still sell them ($13)… (But, read the story first, the modern-day Sea-Monkeys are knockoffs from China.)



Don’t forget to give them their special packets!! 


image via Master Marf

Oh yeah, Harold von Braunhut also invented X-ray Spex glasses!!!

Pee-wee X ray spex Sea Monkey family