Sea Monkeys — those little frozen brine shrimp that came with an elaborate aquatic playground that was never actually as cool as the marketing made it look — were invented in 1957 by a man named Harold von Braunhut. A con man by any other name, von Braunhut was also a marketing genius, hyping up his cheap gimmicky toys like Sea Monkeys and X-Ray Specs with famously exciting ad placement, mostly in comic books. By the end of his life in 2003, he held 195 patents for an array of awesome-sounding-but-utterly-disappointing products.
And much of his money was spent supporting white supremacist causes, including the Aryan Nation — which is particularly notable, because von Braunhut was Jewish. To be fair, he also supported environmental causes (#ecofascism, baby).
von Braunhut also got himself involved in some shady activity around licensing and shipment, as self-hating white supremacist con man are wont to do. His widow, a former 60s bondage film queen named Yolanda Signorelli von Braunhut, is still embroiled in these legal battles as she tries to lay claim to whatever remains of her late husband's fortune. For what it's worth, she's also the one who claimed he died from a fall
Jack Hitt wrote a lengthy exploration into the battle over the Sea-Monkey fortune for New York Times Magazine, and believe me when I say that the details I have included here are not just random bits of knowledge — they are intricately tied up in the entire case. It's wonderfully wild.
The Battle Over the Sea-Monkey Fortune [Jack Hitt / New York Times Magazine]
Contrasts of a Private Persona [Eugene L. Meyer / Washington Post]
The Sea Monkeys and the White Supremacist [Tamar Brott / LA Times]
The Shocking True Tale Of The Mad Genius Who Invented Sea-Monkeys [Evan Hughes / The Awl]
Harold von Braunhut, Seller Of Sea Monkeys, Dies at 77 [Douglas Martin / New York Times]
Image: Claudio Lobos / Flickr (CC 2.0)