‘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
  • I didn’t know there were sea monkeys until I read your wonderful blog Paul!! Paul, in honor of Earth day, I take this moment to say how beautiful this planet is and I love Globey from your show playhouse. This picture I captured of the sunshine & sky this morning is dedicated to the beauty that is Earth!! Have a great day!!

  • J May

    That is really amazing. I like the dichotomy of such tiny things making such a huge fortune (and a whole mess of trouble)!

  • Helen Gircko

    Very cute. Very interesting. Very entertaining. Thanks!

  • Thad Oosh

    Something is up with these new critters. We bought some a couple of weeks ago from Wal-Mart (<$6) and they died within a few days. I usually keep them going at least 6 months or so.

  • Karri

    Hey thanks Pee Wee, I found the article in The New York Times. Fascinating!! And by the way, Im so happy, glad & thankful for all your many years of wonderful one of a kind entertainment you have given us. You made my childhood fun & my adulthood appreciate and love the strange & weird.

  • Jim Collins

    Interesting read. I grew up reading comics and remember well the ads near the back pages. I think I tried nearly all of them with the only non-disappointing one being the HE Harris stamp offer. It started me collecting. I sold seeds, tried the x-Ray glasses, the magic kit, and even mastered the art of hypnotizing. Sea Monkeys always stood out but I only had to waste my money once on them.

  • Eva Odland

    A friend of mine got them. They came alive, grew weird teeth and jaws and ate each other.

  • Peggy Ann Saviola

    Bought them without my parents knowledge. Sent cash through the mail. Got them and was totally disappointed. Then my cat drank all the water. Also sent for the pregnant male seahorse. Never came. 😱

  • Being knowledgeable about Psychology, I pick up on this type of marketing all the time. Cognitive Priming is very effective! I remember wanting some sea monkeys as a kid, when at a beach gift shop, and my Mom explaining they weren’t what was on the box. Thanks for this interesting article Pee-Wee! I always look forward to your posts.

  • Craig Gordon

    With time, patience and doubling up on their food packages there are limitless options…

  • mandy Mendoza

    you always look brilliant in your sunglasses paul I also remember that movie that was me and my cousin Jenny’s fav. movie pee wee’s big adventure I’m talking about

  • Sonia

    I always wanted sea monkeys, but my parents never got them, now I’m glad they never did, i would of been very dissapointed. Btw, my 6 year old daughter is on her third run of “Peewee’s plays house ” she knows all the seasons by heart now, your newest movie “Peewee’s big holiday ” got her into everything Peewee! 🙂

  • Geoff Mallette

    I was going to buy some for my granddaughter but I could only find the ones from china so I didn’t bother buying them since they were ripping his widow off. Just because someone doesn’t like their contract doesn’t mean they can change it to suit their needs. Hopefully she’ll be able to recoup all of the money they’ve been ripping her off with the selling of counterfeit Seamonkeys and then some.

  • Amanda Dushan

    I never heard of them, until I’ve read your blog, but they look adorable.