The History of Li'l Abner's The Shmoo
A Brief Overview of the Shmoo
The Shmoo was a cartoon character created in 1948 and appeared in the popular comic strip Li'l Abner. Created by Al Capp, the Shmoo was to the 1948 generation what modern "viral" media is to the 2000s. Almost overnight the Shmoo rose in popularity and set records for merchandising and media popularity for that time. Because of the popularity of the Shmoo and how quickly it rose to fame, the character has a fascinating history.
What Is A Shmoo?
The shmoo is an amazing creature. It is pure white in color and has a body that is the shape of a bowling pin. It has legs, a face, and whiskers, but no arms, ears, or nose. They have no bones in their bodies making them very flexible. The shmoo are able to reproduce asexually and reproduce at extremely fast rates. They don't need food and never have to eat anything to stay alive. They only need to breathe air.
Shmoo meat is the most delicious meat in all the world and they love that humans want to eat them. They taste like any food that a human is craving at the time they eat the shmoo. Shmoo are so happy to be eaten that they basically keel over and die from pure happiness making it easy for humans to have shmoo meat to cook.
Shmoo not only provide meat to humans, they also produce butter, milk, and eggs, and their skin is a better material than leather and can be used to produce goods. Every part of the Shmoo is useful for something. Their eyes can be used to make buttons, their whiskers are strong enough to be toothpicks, and since they have no bones no part of the shmoo is wasted.
When humans discovered them they were considered the perfect animal that could solve all of the worlds hunger problems. Since they reproduce so quickly their numbers are always plentiful. The shmoo are happy creatures and by giving up their lives to help humans they believe they are making the world a happier place.
The Shmoo As Satire
Al Capp created the story of the shmoo as a satire about the corporate greed that exists in the world.The entire story of the shmoo was created to be symbolic of how capitalists destroy all that is good in in the world in their search for more and more profits. They destroy the Earth and are willing to go so far as to kill innocent creatures to make sure their businesses are successful and continue making money.
In the comic strip Lil Abner discovers these creatures and decides to introduce them to the rest of the world. Once there, people discover how useful they are because they can produce eggs, milk, and butter. Capitalists running industries get angry because they are no longer selling products because the shmoos are producing enough goods that older methods aren't needed. The capitalists decide to kill off all the shmoos to get rid of them so they can start making money again. They eventually wipe out all of the shmoos and raise prices on their products just because they can now that the competition is gone. Lil Abner secretly saves a male and female shmoo and send them off back to their safe land to reproduce and rebuild their society.
The Craze for Shmoo Merchandise
When Al Capp wrote the original story of the shmoo over forty million people read about them in newspapers featuring the Li'l Abner comic strip. Because of the storyline readership for Li'l Abner doubled making the shmoo incredibly successful. And with success came merchandise. Shmoo merchandise was bought by the masses in ways products hadn't been bought before. In one year shmoo merchandise brought in $25,000,000 in profits.
The shmoo craze is comparable to modern viral media crazes but was different in one big way. While corporations are usually behind viral marketing campaigns to sell products, the shmoo wasn't originally made viral due to corporate efforts. People saw Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip and loved the character so much that the craze happened on it's own. People of all ages adored the character and plot of their story and it became instantly popular overnight. In 1948 before the internet and online social networking, this was an amazing event.
It is estimated that over 40 million people read Al Capp's original shmoo story in newspapers and the story is what caused readership of his comics to double. A book, "The Life & Times of The Shmoo was published in 1948 and become one of the best selling books of that time and was the first book featuring cartoons to be ever be highly rated. Seven hundred thousand copies of this book sold in it's first year.
Shmoo Fun Facts
- In the 1948 Presidential election Thomas E. Dewey said that Harry S. Truman was "promising everything including the shmoo."
- The U.S. Treasury Department issued a shmoo themed savings bond in 1949. It temporarily replaced Mickey Mouse which was the image on Children's savings bonds before the shmoo's creation.
- A fraternity at Clarkson University called Alpha Phi Omega uses the shmoo as it's mascot.
- In 1948, candy shmoo were dropped on Berlin over hungry people during the Soviet Union's blockade of West Berlin. People were starving and the candy being dropped from planes almost started a riot.
- The word "shmoo" is used in scientific fields. Economists use the term "shmoo" in the same way as in the comic series. Biologists have named some biological organisms after the shmoo. There is a type of sea urchin named after them. In Particle Physics a shmoo is a high energy cosmic ray survey instrument because of its shape.
- A shmoo met Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble in an episode of The Flintstone Comedy Show.
- Shmoo products produced included: watches, dolls, fishing lures, soap, Halloween costumes, banks, clothing, ice cream, pens, and numerous other products.
- In 2008, the original shmoo comics were reprinted into a book to share them with a new generation.
- Al Capp later reintroduced relatives to the shmoos like nogoodniks which were bad shmoos, flying shmoos named shtoonks, and shminfants that were baby shmoos.
The New Shmoo Cartoon Intro
The New Shmoo Cartoon (1979)
The Shmoo got it's own cartoon in 1979 produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired on NBC. The cartoon's plot was very similar to that of the show Scooby-Doo, Where are You. The Shmoo and a group of human friends traveled around solving mysteries and crimes. The humans, Billy Joe, Micky, and Nita worked for Mighty Mysteries Comics and Shmoo worked alongside them.
The New Shmoo Full Episode
The Shmoo on M*A*S*H
M*A*S*H Featured Shmoo Merchandise
On an episode of M*A*S*H titled "Who Knew?" the shmoo made an appearance. The episode aired on November 22, 1982 during M*A*S*H's eleventh season. In this episode Colonel Potter buys a giant shmoo toy in Korea to mail to his grandchild as a gift. His wife had been looking for one but they were sold out everywhere. He talks about how the shmoo is a character on Li'l Abner and how it was the "biggest thing to hit the states since Studebaker put the front end on the back." When explaining why it was so popular Colonel Potter said "Everythings getting so technical people need to have something dumb and simple like this."