For the child seized by the creative spirit, when construction toys like Legos were simply not enough, Sea Monkeys satisfied a tyke’s urge to meddle in the realm of biology. Aided by an intensive ad campaign appearing in every comic book in the 1960s and 70s, Sea Monkeys sparked the imagination and intrigued the junior (mad) scientists of America.
The name Sea Monkeys is only 50% correct, unfortunately. They’re not actually monkeys; they’re brine shrimp that live in salt water (Artemia salina for those of you with a passion for taxonomy). They comprise most of the zooplankton that other sea dwellers feast on and the toy industry certainly had no use for them. That changed when Harold von Braunhut (excellent mad scientist name!) who had already invented that other kid sensation, X-Ray Spex, developed a simple kit for raising the brine shrimp as pets. Aspiring little marine biologists rejoiced.
Honey Toy Industries marketed the little creatures in 1960 under the name Instant Life but they failed to wow their target audience. Von Braunhut then added the name Sea Monkeys to the Instant Life package and sales began a meteoric climb. By the 1970s, Honey Toy—now called Transcience Corporation—dropped the ‘Instant Life’ part of the name since creation of life from the void was not as compelling a selling tool as illustrations of happy Sea Monkey families out for a watery stroll.
Mr. and Mrs. Sea Monkey and their adorable offspring needed suitable accommodation so they were packaged along with plastic containers called Ocean Zoos, which became the standard housing. Exploiting the fact that brine shrimp naturally swim against the current, the Deluxe Sea Monkey Speedway soon appeared, along with Sea Monkey Ski Trails, and Sea Monkey Fox Hunt. Opinion is divided as to where the fox came from.
Interest eventually subsided and Sea Monkeys weren’t the “it” toy to have. Many potential Sea Monkey farmers were dissuaded by friends who said, “They don’t really look like that, you know!” with much bitterness and rancor. Once you found out that girl Sea Monkeys didn’t actually wear pearls or carry a purse, the magic dispelled.
Sea Monkeys made a comeback in the 90s, striking a nostalgic chord with adults who had enjoyed them as children; the concept—and crazy artwork—was retro enough to be cool again. No longer confined to the back cover of comic books, Sea Monkeys are still available in toy store chains nationwide.
Were you ever the proud owner of a family of Sea Monkeys. Share your adventurous tales with us in our comments section, as we tip our hats to one of the more intriguing fads to ever grace the back of a comic book.