Sea Monkeys: From the Moon to the KKK

The content below is from Episode 136 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast


  • Howdy Who’d a Thunkers. Zeb here. It has been a weird month for me. I got married, then immediately had Covid (had to miss Halloween this year), and then I got my wisdom teeth extracted.
    • It has been a weird ride. Luckily I’ve got my friends, pets, and family (mainly my wife Shannon) to help me through it.
  • So my apologies if I sound off. My mouth hasn’t fully healed yet.


  • This week I recommend you watch Star Trek Prodigy
    • I watch it on Paramount Plus. It’s an animated Star Trek show created by Nickalodeon.
    • I didn’t expect to like it. I merely clicked on the first tile that popped up on Paramount Plus while I was recovering from my Wisdom Teeth extraction surgery… (I’m still recovering and I hate it).
    • But the show is cool!
      • A motley crew of young aliens in the Delta Quadrant find an abandoned Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Protostar; taking control of the ship, they must learn to work together as they make their way towards the Alpha Quadrant.
    • Unlike MOST Star Trek shows, Prodigy doesn’t follow the story of a well-trained Star Fleet crew. This is the story of kidnapped orphans forced into a life of manual labor who break free when they discover a Star Fleet ship (the USS ProtoStar).
    • It’s fun and exciting and I love it.


  • Chances are that you have heard of Sea Monkeys.
    • Perhaps they are the subject of an old dusty memory of yours, a weird cultural phenomenon of an American fad surrounding pets. Sea Monkeys won’t be the MOST bizarre American pet fad, that title will always belong to the pet rock (a titan in advertising), but the story behind Sea Monkeys is even more fascinating.
    • You see, Sea Monkeys were advertised in comic books distributed all across America. The ad showed human-like creatures with antennas living in castles and raising little Sea-Monkey kids. It depicted the Sea Monkey product as conscious miniature pets you could keep in a fish bowl… for $1.
  • But if you were a kid that had your parents help you fill out one of these comic book ads and got Sea Monkeys sent to you, then you know the ad was misleading.
    • I remember my dad got me Sea-Monkeys when I was a kid. IDK if he tried it, but it was an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson about advertising. He told me they wouldn’t be like the ad showed. He knew they would just be little water bug things, but he got them for me anyway. I followed the instructions and saw the water bugs and they died VERY soon after that because I didn’t know how to take care of a Sea Monkey.
  • The Sea Monkey pet promised instant life that could be sent through the mail. A pet via USPS! It got kids excited because we felt we could create a life form in a fish bowl with a few easy instructions and some packets we got in the mail.
    • The original 1972 patent came with 3 packets and instructions.
    • Packet #1 was the water conditioner
      • You added packet #1 to get the water ready for the Sea Monkeys to thrive. Wait for 24 hours
    • Packet #2 had the eggs in it
      • Once the 24 hours were up (which felt like a lifetime for a kid who was promised microscopic sea monkey friends) you added packet #2 and watched as the Sea Monkeys seemed to hatch out of nowhere
    • Packet #3 had the food
      • Packet #3, the food was used to… well… feed the Sea Monkeys
    • If you were a kid that got Sea Monkeys then you did this, were amazed for about a maximum of about 1 day then you went on with your life.
  • So what are Sea Monkeys?
    • Well, they aren’t sentient beings with castles and the ability to speak as the 1992 live-action show The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys starring Howie Mandel suggested.
    • They are brine shrimp (not technically a shrimp). Technically they are known as Artemia salina. They are crustaceans found in salty lakes and ponds. The fossil record shows they’ve been on this planet for over 100 million years. They eat algae and are most widely useful to humans as fish food.
    • Artemia are used to feed fish in fish farms all over the world.
    • What sets the Artemia apart from other microscopic crustaceans is how the females lay their eggs. When their environment is to their liking, the female will lay a thin-shelled egg allowing those offspring to hatch and start their own lives immediately.
    • But when the environment around the pregnant female is less-than ideal or harsh, she will lay eggs with a hard shell known as a cyst. Inside this hard cyst is an Artemia larva that is fully developed, but kept inside the cyst until the conditions are just right enough for the larva to thrive. Once the surrounding water is just salty enough, the Artemia larva will emerge from its cyst egg.
      • Scientists launched the Apollo 16 and 17 moon missions with these Artemia cyst eggs aboard to see how they would fair in space. The eggs did hatch, but due to the excess cosmic radiation and other variables, they were born with noticeable mutations.
    • Artemia Nauplii is the species best known for their use in fish food.
      • You can order packets with thousands of Artemia Nauplii cyst eggs and cultivate them yourself. They have such a market for them because the cyst eggs make these little fish food guys super easy to transport, yet still very nutritious for the farmed fish.
  • Although this story of the Artemia being hatched in space and being a super efficient way to feed farmed fish is a neat little story (and would have been the extent of the Artemia story in their relation to us humans) it wasn’t until a dude named Harold von Braunhut saw some Artemia in a pet store.
    • In the year prior 1956, the ant farm had blown up in popularity so it was a good time to get into the pet fad market. Harold von Braunhut saw these little shrimp things squiggling around in the fish bowls and had an idea.
    • He saw this bucket of fish food artemia and thought he could make like… an aquatic version of the ant farm for kids. But the current market for Artemia was for the purpose of feeding them to fish. They weren’t designed to live very long… just long enough for the fish to gobble them up.
    • So Harold Von Braunhut collaborated with marine biologist Dr. Anthony D’Agostino to develop the proper mix of nutrients and chemicals in dry form that could be added to plain tap water to create an accommodating habitat for the shrimp to thrive. Von Braunhut was granted a patent for this process on July 4, 1972.
      • The animals sold as Sea-Monkeys are claimed to be an artificial breed known as Artemia NYOS, formed by hybridising different species of Artemia.[6] They are also claimed to live longer and grow bigger than ordinary brine shrimp; however, there are no references to these claims outside marketing material from the manufacturer.
      • D’Agostino claims the Artemia NYOS is hardier and lives longer than other Artemia species, but there isn’t any evidence to support this outside of the marketing so if it is true… we have no idea how D’Agostino did it.
      • The Artemia NYOS are the only creature specifically bred to have the lifespan equaling that of a toy.
    • They were initially called “Instant Life” and sold for $0.49,[5] but von Braunhut changed the name to “Sea-Monkeys” in 1962. The new name was based on their salt-water habitat, together with the supposed resemblance of the animals’ tails to those of monkeys.[6]
    • Sea-Monkeys were intensely marketed in comic books throughout the 1960s and early 1970s[6] using illustrations by the comic-book illustrator Joe Orlando. These showed humanoid animals that bear no resemblance to the crustaceans.[7] Many purchasers were disappointed by the dissimilarity and by the short lifespan of the animals.[6] Von Braunhut is quoted as stating: “I think I bought something like 3.2 million pages of comic book advertising a year. It worked beautifully.”
  • But the Sea Monkey pet trick is a big marketed sleight of hand trick.
    • You remember the 3 packets and instructions I mentioned earlier?
    • Well those packets didn’t work as advertised.
    • A colony is started by adding the contents of a packet labeled “Water Purifier” to a tank of water. This packet contains salt, water conditioner, and some brine shrimp eggs.
      • So packet #1 has eggs in it already.
    • After 24 hours, this is augmented with the contents of a packet labeled “Instant Life Eggs,” containing more eggs, yeastborax, soda, salt, some food, and sometimes a dye.[7] 
      • If not that many sea monkeys hatched with the first packet of eggs, the hope was that the eggs in packet #2 would be more successful. Plus, that dye is what makes the Artemia visible. They are typically see-through creatures so they are near impossible to spot without the dye in packet #2.
    • Shortly after that, Sea-Monkeys hatch from the eggs that were in the “Water Purifier” packet. “Growth Food” containing yeast and spirulina is then added every seven days. The best temperature for hatching is 24–27 °C (75–81 °F).[7] Extra and supplementary pouches can be purchased on the official website,[8] though these are not required for the well-being of the Sea-Monkeys.
      • So that first packet labled Water Purifier is what has the bulk of the eggs. Those eggs hatch during the 24 hour waiting period and then when packet #2 is added with the dye those hatched eggs become visible. It appears as if the sea monkeys appear out of nowhere, but in reality they had been there all night long… us kids just couldn’t see them until the dye was added.
      • As the patent says it is “the impression of instant life.”
    • According to a professor and marine biologist at the University of Mississippi, Artemia usually has a lifespan of two to three months. Still, under ideal home conditions, the brine shrimp live longer. Pet sea monkeys can live for a year, and some have been observed to live for up to five years.
  • Von Braunhut was known for this sort of sleight-of-hand marketing. He had successfully launched a product known as the Invisible Fish which was just a fish bowl, fish food, and no fish… So the guy could sell stuff.
    • So this cultural phenomenon, the sea monkey icon was created by a perfect storm:
      • WW2 had ended not too long before and the babies were booming. America was full of kids. This made the toy industry GROW.
      • You had the pet fads like the ant farm priming the market for such a product.
      • You had the guy who could sell No Fish to the kids of America.
      • You had these remarkable brine shrimp just big enough to see with the naked eye and that could be hatched even after taking a trip to the moon (surviving cosmic radiation).
      • And you had a very lucrative market of comic book advertising. The kids who read comic books wanted to believe in special stuff like sea monkeys more (even more than most kids).
    • Evan Hughes at writes about the cultural impact these little crustaceans have had: Legions of children enchanted by Sea-Monkey lore have seen disappointed to see their smelly little specks die in a matter of days; but others have made obsessive websites and written books about their ongoing Sea-Monkey love. Sea-Monkey eggs went to space with John Glenn in 1998 and came back still good to go. The creatures inspired a (bizarre) short-lived live-action series for kids on CBS in the early ’90s, and they were featured on “South Park” and in a Pixies song. Michael Birnbaum’s Empire Pictures bought the film rights to Sea-Monkeys in 2006 to develop an animated movie.
  • The original ad was drawn up by Joe Orlando (later the VP of DC comics) and the over-the-top and over-promising script for the ad was written by none other than Von Braunhut himself.
    • Von Braunhut was a champion of novelty crap sold in comic books like X-Ray glasses, spy pens, mini cameras, etc. And Sea Monkeys were his biggest success.
    • Perhaps the thing that made these sea monkeys so well known though… was how unspectacular they are.
    • Just as I experienced the massive letdown when I realized Sea Monkeys aren’t walking talking people in a fish bowl, so did A LOT of kids in America.
    • For a lot of kids, Sea Monkeys represent one of the first times we realized that reality isn’t as spectacular as our dreams.
  • Harold Von Braunhut was a genius salesman. While all the other toy companies were buying up all the TV ads marketing to the parents, Von Braunhut marketed straight to the kids in their comic books.
    • But this episode, this story, isn’t just 1 dimensional. Like the life of ANY person, Harold Von Braunhut’s life was… complicated.
    • In addition to being one of the best salesmen/marketer of all time, he also raced motorcycles as the Green Hornet. He was a manager for magic acts like Henry Lamothe, the man who could dive 60 feet into just 12 inches of water.
    • He had patents for X-Ray glasses, air-breathing crabs, just-add-water monsters, that invisible goldfish, and of course, sea monkeys.
  • At this point, the story gets weird and dark and close to unbelievable, but I promise, this is all true.
  • It was in 1968 when Harold got a patent for the Kiyoga steel whip.
    • It was a self-defense weapon marketed towards people who might be faced with a mugging, but didn’t have a gun.
    • The ads he took out were VERY similar to Sea Monkeys ads with the same layout and forwarding address.
    • The strangest part of Harold’s Kiyoga steel whip product was that it included a pledge: “manufacturer has made a pledge of $25 to my defense fund for each one sold to Aryan Nations supporters.” 
  • Harold von Braunhut was a white supremacist…
    • He was a very generous and very active member of the Aryan Nations group
    • There was a guy who went by the name Hendrick won Braun who was a well-decorated member of the group. There is even video evidence of this Hendrick von Braun being awarded something called the Imperial Order of the Black Eagle and then giving the heil hitler salute…
  • He had used some money he made selling the Kiyoga Agent M5 Steel Whip to fund the Ku Klux Klan in their goal to acquire illegal firearms. About $12,000
    • Harold was quoted saying “Hitler wasn’t a bad guy. He just had bad press.”
  • When the US Attorney’s office summoned him he brought some sea monkeys with him.
  • From again:
    • An Assistant U.S. Attorney, Thomas M. Bauer, told the Washington Post that in a 1985 weapons case against a member of the Ku Klux Klan, Grand Dragon Dale R. Reusch, von Braunhut was prepared to testify that he had lent Reusch about $12,000 so he could buy 83 firearms. Bauer told the reporter that von Braunhut was “very pleasant and cooperative” and “brought some of his little toys along,” including Sea-Monkeys.
    • The general Aryan Nations view holds that Jewish people are directly descended from the devil. It seems clear that von Braunhut, who owned Nazi memorabilia and once said Hitler “just got bad press,” signed on to these beliefs. But one has to wonder what brought him to the point of nodding along when his friend Butler, for instance, described Jews as “the bacillus of the decomposition of our society.” Aryan Nations members might have been dismayed to hear that von Braunhut engaged a law firm called Friedman and Goodman early in his career. They might also have been puzzled that his name was listed on early patents as Harold N. Braunhut. The middle initial stands for Nathan. Harold von Braunhut was born and raised Jewish.
    • It’s not entirely clear why the Aryan Nations didn’t cast von Braunhut out after the Washington Post gave a thorough account of his Jewish origins in 1988. Von Braunhut said, “I will not make any statements whatsoever” on the topic when questioned for the article, then stopped returning calls. The article also reported that he was born in Manhattan and that he gave an address in (heavily Jewish) Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, when he briefly attended Columbia University. He lived in New York City into the mid-’80s. The Post reported that a Harold Braunhut paid for the upkeep of his parents’ graves at a Jewish cemetery in Long Island in 1979. Which is hard to square with the fact that von Braunhut was helping a Klansman buy 83 guns in 1980 at the latest.
    • Perhaps the Aryan Nations allowed von Braunhut to stay in the fold because Butler liked having a wealthy backer, as Floyd Cochran, a former spokesman of the group who later renounced it, has said. Von Braunhut made a lot of money from all those whimsical inventions that kept America laughing.
  • Soon after his ties with the Aryan brotherhood were made public, Von Braunhut lost all ad ties with America’s comic book publishers.
    • Von Braunhut died in 2003 at the age of 77. His widow made a deal with a toy company to sell sea monkeys. His widow tried to sue the toy company for breach of contract. The toy company said they weren’t using the Artemia NYOS breed so it didn’t apply. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
  • How does the man responsible for creating such a fun and colorful life for so many kids also live this life of hate?
    • The inventor of Sea Monkeys was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who pledged large portions of his profits to an anti-Semitic hate group.
      • When confronted with this in an interview he said in a depressed tone “Those reports are all lies. I don’t have to defend myself to you or anyone else. Look I’m done here.”
  • He was also quoted saying things like:
    • “Hate is as natural as love. Hate is just the same coin as love, just on the opposite side.” -Hendrik von Braun… at KKK Rallies
  • In 2002 Harold filed his last patent: The Aquarium Watch
    • designed to keep sea monkeys inside a capsule on the wrist


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