Monkey Sea Monkey Do...
Monday/December/21 2009 Filed in: Marketing / Business
Who the Hell is This Guy?!
If you're a baby boomer, you've certainly heard of at least some of the hundreds of worthless novelty products he peddled for decades on the inside covers of comic books and magazines.
He's Harold Von Braunhut, the mail-order mastermind behind Honor House, the company that made a fortune selling such iconic crap as Sea Monkeys, X-Ray Specs and $5 Rocket Ships. But the real story here is where the company profits may have ended up. But more about that in a bit.
First of all, there's no such animal as a sea monkey. It was a fanciful name that Von Braunhut came up with to hawk a mysterious breed of nearly microscopic brine shrimp known as Artemia Salina.
The so-called Sea Monkeys were easy to ship because they were in a state of suspended animation, called cryptobiosis, until you added borax, ash and yeast.
In fact, even after adding these magic ingredients purchasers often learned that their sea monkeys were in that other, more familiar, state of suspended animation better known as dead.
Does the FTC know about this?
The comic book ad showing a nuclear family of sea monkeys, -- Mom with a bow on her head protrusions -- lounging in front of their sea castle, pushed the limits of puffery.
But then again what do you expect from Joe Orlando who not only drew the illustration of the sea monkey family but was an associate publisher of Mad Magazine.
There is a disclaimer, though. The package states: "Illustration is fanciful, does not depict Artemia."
What a deal! For just one buck you can get a pair of glasses that lets you see through stuff. Well, kinda.
I see London, I see France...
And if you're a pre-teen boy looking at a comic book ad, it's pretty easy to guess what you'd like to use this gadget for.
Unfortunately, X-Ray Specs don't allow you to see through the clothes of that cute girl with the orange backpack in Home Room. Nor do they allow you to shoot lightning bolts at her as punishment for ignoring you.
The so-called lenses of X-Ray Specs actually consist of a feather pressed between two pieces of cardboard punctured with pinholes. The feather diffracts light and creates two slightly offset images of whatever you're looking at.
And Voila! You can see the bones in your hand!
Not just a Rocket Space Ship. A Jet Rocket Space Ship!
"Imagine a streamlined space ship big enough to hold a child."
Wow, a child! Now that's stretching the imagination!
"Because of its enormous size we're forced to ask for 63 cents shipping charges."
Wow! 63 cents! This thing must be freakin' huge!
A dissatisfied customer:
new16q reports his disappointment in the 1950's with his Jet Rocket Space Ship in a Flickr posting:
When it came I was disappointed because it was just pieces of cardboard and even the box it came in was part of the so-called rocket. I built it in my basement and called my friend Dick to come see it....he took one look and said, "That's it?"
I think it ended up in the trash bin the next day. But I learned a lesson. If it seems to good to be true (a spaceship for $4.98), it probably is. :-)
We imagine he wouldn't have been any more satisfied with the Polaris Nuclear Sub for two bucks more.
Jack Booted Sea Monkeys
The money raked in during the 1950's from sales of Sea Monkeys, X-Ray Specs, cardboard Rockets and countless other products helped Harold Von Braunhut fund some of his favorite political organizations.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Von Braunhut was a committed supporter of several white supremacists groups. He allegedly helped supply firearms to the Ku Klux Klan and regularly attended the Aryan Nations annual conference.
Not long before his mysterious death in his home in 2003, in an interview with the Seattle Times, Von Braunhut commented on his politics this way, "You know what side I'm on. I don't make any bones about it."
Maybe he was talking about those bones revealed by his amazing X-Ray Specs...