The Wham-O company of California, USA, first established in 1948, has over the years been responsible for introducing the public to a number of exciting innovations such as the Wham-O Frisbee®, the Wham-O Hula Hoop® and the Wham-O Superball®, but none perhaps more curious than the Wham-O Instant Fish®.

The Wham-O Instant Fish® had its origins in a visit to Africa made by one of the company's founders Arthur Melin, during which he came across the Africa killifish. Now some types of killifish have developed a particular life cycle to cope with the variations in the African climate. During the rainy season the killifish thrive in temporary ponds where they breed and deposit their eggs in the mud. When the dry season arrives, the ponds disappear, killing off the adults, but the eggs survive in the mud by entering a state of diapause, awaiting the return of the rains, at which point they hatch and the miracle of life begins anew.

Arthur saw the commercial potential of these killifish, believing that there was money to be made in selling chunks of mud which, with the addition of water, would create an instant aquarium in any American home. Wham-O got hold of some specimens of the killifish species Cynolebias whitei and Cynolebias nigripinnis and acquired the services of a professional fish breeder named Gene Wolfsheimer to advise them on the care of said fish and set about establishing a breeding programme.

Wham-O succeeded in gaining millions of dollars worth of orders for their Wham-O Instant Fish® but something went wrong. The official Wham-O history states that the problem was that "the fish brought back to America wouldn't mate", although Harold von Braunhut (the originator of a rival 'instant fish' product) once claimed in an interview that "the fish didn't work" and claimed that the "buyer at Sears Roebuck almost got fired because of it". The survival of at least some examples of the 1962 batch of the Wham-O Instant Fish® complete with packaging proclaiming that "They hatch right before your eyes!" and an original price tag of $5.98, seems to indicate that Whamo-O managed to get some stocks out of the door. One suspects that there were problems in both mass producing stock and in getting the resulting eggs to hatch in a domestic enviroment.

The Ebay.se source noted below has (at the time of writing) a number of colour photographs of the Instant Fish product. The BBC source also has a black and white photo of the same product, although the text confuses the Wham-O Instant Fish with Braunhut's Amazing Sea Monkeys. Incidentally, Braunhut blamed the failure of the Instant Fish for the subsequent refusal of the retailers to consider stocking his Amazing Sea Monkeys thus forcing him to sell his product by mail order.

The Wham-O Instant Fish® came complete with; Decorative plastic Aquarium, Base with 2 built in Feeding Tanks, Magnifying glass for Observation, Feeding Tube, 1 Package Fish Food, Container of Real Live Tropical Fish Eggs, Covers and dividers for separate tanks, and last but not least, Instructions.


SOURCES

    Official Wham-O history at
    http://www.wham-o.com/?page=AboutUsHistory
    http://www.wham-o.com/?page=AboutUsHistoryTimeline
  • Archive of killietalk at aka_org http://fins.actwin.com/killietalk/month.9809/msg00221.html
  • Information on killifish from http://www.triops.com/critters.htm
  • For pictures of Wham-O Instant Fish
    http://www.ebay.se/viItem?ItemId=6039416947
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ilove/years/1963/toys1.shtml
  • Harold von Braunhut interviewed by 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

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