TNB Night Owl – Instant Fish

Male Aphyosemion elberti "Red T", a West African Killifish from Cameroon. Photo by Montykillies

Wham-O company was responsible for some of the most popular children’s toys. The superball, the frisbee, the hula hoop, silly string, the slip-n-slide, instant fish….

These beauties predated sea monkeys, and unlike those freeze-dried brine shrimp they were actual fish. The fish in question were African killifish, and they possess an interesting characteristic: their eggs can survive being dry.

Inspired by a late-1950s trip to Africa, Wham-O realized they had a potential hit on their hands. They gathered up fish and eggs, transported them to America, and began breeding and testing the eggs. The company heads were delighted when their suspicions bore out. The fertilized eggs could be packaged as toys, kept on shelves for months, and after being submerged in water with some food (ironically, the very brine shrimp that would later be marketed as Sea Monkeys) developed into beautiful two-inch long multicolored swimmers.

They brought their newest brainchild to the 1962 New York Toy Fair, and it was a hit. Not just a minor hit, but a major one. Wham-o was a trusted name, and the notion of an instant fish tank was a guaranteed seller. Millions of orders were placed.

….and that’s where the problem arose.

When extra orders were placed for frisbees, or hula hoops, or any other plastic product, the answer was simple: take the cash provided and manufacture more. But fish eggs require more than plastic. They require mommy and daddy fish to be in the fertilization mood, and that simply wasn’t happening.

Faced with millions of orders and only thousands of available units of product, Wham-o began informing their buyers of their mistake, and buyers who’d invested toy store money in products which would never arrive in time for Christmas began losing their jobs.

So, yes, Instant Fish was incredibly popular. It merely didn’t remain so for very long.

Question of the night: What was a childhood toy you wanted but never received?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.