Sometime around 1957, Harold von Braunhut began to notice the tiny salt-water creatures known under the scientific name of Artenia Salina, or brine shrimp. At the time they were being used as fish food, mainly because of their size and high protein content. What he noticed was that the little buggers had evolved the ability to encase themselves in a protective shell and go into suspended animation during lean times; when they were later put back into water, they became re-animated and continued their little lives. Having successfully marketed a novelty product called Invisible Goldfish (similar to the pet rock in that the gag was there was no fish; purchasers only got the bowl, some colored rocks to put along the bottom, and a little plastic plant for decoration); von Braunhut saw another opportunity. The little creatures, in their suspended state, could be mailed across the country without harm; and once released, they were certainly less trouble than regular fish. He spent some time time developing the concept - coming up with formulas to cause faster growth, and developing a variety called Artemia NYOS (for New York Ocean Science), and when all was ready, he marketed them... under the name of Instant Life.
Instant Life was not an instant hit. Finding distribution with a smaller company called Honey Toy Industries (later renamed Transcience Corporation), von Braunhut advertised in comic books, because so far it had been an ad medium under-utlized by other toy manufacturers. But sales, while steady, were not what he knew they could be. The little critters swimming around in their watery environment, their long tails flowing behind them, seemed to resemble tiny monkeys; in 1962 von Braunhut renamed his creation Sea Monkeys and sales took off.
Sea Monkeys were advertised in comic books for decades; at one time it was estimated that the world-famous brine shrimp were appearing in over 300 million individual pages of advertising a year. Von Braunhut was even granted a patent on his little lifeform. The popular ads portrayed a nuclear sea monkey family - Dad, Mom, Son, and Daughter - leading happy, peaceful lives and waving to readers with their gilled little hands. For all the enticement these ads created - and they were enticing - many purchasers were disappointed with what they received in the mail. The Sea Monkeys are, after all, just tiny little weird shrimp; they don't have arms or hands, they don't build civilizations, they don't proffer gifts to their human benefactors. Ultimately, they just swim around, eat their formula, lay some eggs, and die. Like the Mexican jumping bean or the mood ring, the anticipation of the item - or one's status with friends for owning it - seems to be the primary benefit that can be expected.
The Sea Monkeys were spoofed on an episode in the sixth season of South Park called "Sea People." Cartman's sea people built a little underwater civilization and even a statue to him.
- von Braunhut also developed that other staple of comic-book ad wonderment, the X-Ray Spex.
- Sea Monkeys are born with one eye and later grow two more in adulthood
- Sea Monkeys breathe through their feet (eww)
- Sea Monkey females can reproduce both sexually and asexually