Born 1926 Died 2003
Born on the 31st March 1926 in Memphis, Tennessee, Harold von Braunhut, as he became known, was the son of Edward Braunhut and Jeannette Cohen and later found fame as an inventor and mail-order entrepreneur, best known for his discovery and promotion of the Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys®. Raised in New York City where he lived until moving to Maryland in the 1980s, his given name was actually Harold Nathan Braunhut, and only adopted the 'von' during the 1950s to make himself appear more German.
Details of his early life are scarce and obscure. He appears to have raced motorcycles under the name of 'The Green Hornet', managed the magician Joseph Dunninger for a time, as well as an individual whose act consisted of diving forty feet into a paddling pool with twelve inches of water. It was however in 1957 that Harold first came across the tiny shrimps known as Artemia salina, which are capable of spending at least part of their lives in a kind of suspended animation. Harold, and those companies to whom he subsequently licensed his Sea-Monkeys, claim that he developed a secret formula that induced these brine shrimps to hatch instantly. Other sources however state that this is simply a natural process and that Artemia salina respond to drought by developing "a compound which binds to their cell protein and acts as a protective shield within which they seem to exist in suspended animation" and that they simply "spring back to life" when reintroduced to water. 1
Initially marketed as Instant Pet® in 1960, they failed to catch on, partly because all the major toy retailers had already had their fingers burnt by the spectacular failure of the Wham-O Instant Fish. Harold was thus forced to market his innovative product direct to the public but found little response to begin with. It was not until 1962 when he rechristened his shrimps as The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys® and began advertising them for sale in the pages of comic books and detective magazines that sales finally took off. Accompanied by imaginative drawings showing the anthropomorphized shrimps disporting themselves in a fairy tale palace, together with claims that the creatures could perform tricks, play baseball and even be trained to race each other, his advertising soon had thousands of eager children dipping into their pocket money. Of course as generations of disappointed children have discovered, The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys, registered trade mark notwithstanding, do absolutely sod all. Indeed only a fraction of an inch long, the only vaguely interesting thing these translucent creatures are capable of doing is following a beam of light. None of which of course has prevented the Sea-Monkeys 'brand' from achieving widespread fame; CBS briefly tried its hand at a Sea Monkey television series, whilst John Glenn took a few hundred million into space in 1998, for reasons that are not immediately obvious.
Harold was also responsible for a whole series of similar novelty items such as X-Ray Spex®, Crazy Crabs®, the Amazing Hair-Raising Monsters® as well as the Invisible Goldfish, complete with their own invisible goldfish food, and other notable scams that made Harold a multi-millionaire. The holder of no less than 195 US patents, he was said to be "working on a pet lobster and an instant frog" prior to his death. Thanks to the saturation advertising of such items on the back cover of almost every Marvel comic book that appeared in over a decade (Harold once claimed that he did "303 million pages of advertising per year"), his inventions have since been celebrated as icons of kitsch Americana.
One of Harold's many innovations was a device called the Kiyoga Agent M5, a pen-sized, coil-springed weapon that transformed itself into a metal whip at a flick of the wrist (as used by Burt Reynolds in Sharky's Machine). In 1988 it was discovered that Richard Butler, then head of the Aryan Nations and in need of funds to pay for his defence against charges of sedition, was urging his supporters to buy an example of said Kiyoga Agent M5 as the "manufacturer has made a pledge of $25 to my defense fund for each one sold to Aryan Nations supporters". When questioned Butler confirmed that Harold von Braunhut was a "member of the Aryan race who has supported us quite a few years". Naturally this news caused some consternation, as the idea that a proportion of the profits derived from the sale of Harold's line of novelties had been had been used to support neo-fascists was disturbing to many.
Although Harold consistently denied these allegation, or at least consistently slammed the phone down on any reporter who asked him about it, the evidence against him in this respect is pretty solid.
A number of former white supremacist have attested to his presence at their meetings and even claimed that he purchased arms on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan. The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith who have tracked his career, also have files of press cuttings recording his presence at various gatherings of the Aryan Nations, where he apparently liked to appear in a clerical collar and claim that he was an ordained priest. They even have a photograph of him posing in front of a Nazi flag.
He is on record as attending an Aryan Nations congress in 1995 where he announced that Jews are "the bacillus of the decomposition of our society" and claimed in conversation with a business colleague that "Hitler wasn't a bad guy. He just received bad press." Harold was also responsible for something known as the National Anti-Zionist Institute through which he published newsletter under the pseudonymn of Hendrik von Braun, using the same P.O. Box address in Bryans Road, Maryland as he used for his Sea Monkeys business.
As a result of the unfavourable publicity regarding his political convictions, two distributors in succession canceled their licenses for Sea Monkeys. The license is currently owned by Educational Insights of Rancho Dominguez, California who appear to have extracted a promise from Braunhut that he stop his public political activities, but otherwise prefer not to discuss the issue.
Of course being a supporter of the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan and running your own anti-Zionist newsletter is one thing, but the strangest thing of all regarding Harold's political convictions was, as revealed by the Washington Post in 1988, was that Harold himself was in fact a Jew.2
After a lifetime of innovation and questionable political activities, Harold passed away peacefully in the early hours on the morning of the 28th November 2003 at his home in Indian Head, Maryland and was survived by his second wife Yolanda, his son Jonathan and a daughter Jeanette.
1 The Artemia sold as Sea Monkeys are actually a hybrid named Artemia Nyos, the Nyos being an acronymn for the New York Ocean Science Laboratories where the Sea Monkeys were created (or so it is claimed), although there is no explanation as to how in that case Braunhut acquired any rights over the creatures. Artemia Nyos apparently mature quicker and live longer than Artemia salina. The secret formula may well be nothing more than salt (to ensure the correct level of salinity) and a few chemicals to counter the toxicity (to brine shrimp) of normal tap water.
2 Other notable American Jewish neo-fascicts include Daniel Burros, a member of the American Nazi Party who committed suicide in 1965 after his Jewish background was revealed, and Jacob Gollub who was the Mississippi state leader of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s.
- The Daily Telegraph obitaury for Harold von Braunhut (24/12/2003)
- Tamar Brott, The Sea Monkeys and the White Supremacist
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 1, 2000
Reproduced at http://www.geocities.com/KosherNotNice/The_Sea_Monkeys_and_the_White_Supremacist.htm
- Bob Moser, Hitler and the Sea-Monkeys
- Paul Westman, Jewish Aryan Nations Supporter Harold von Braunhut Dead at 77
- Passing from Life to Legend:Harold von Braunhut
- Sea Monkeys' - Artemia Nyos