Radio host Al Crowder invented a singular product line that astounded the world—at least the fraction of the world that bought these products, and sent back the included registration cards. Crowder called the line "BunaB," and they were absolutely, delightfully useless. He made the first one, called "Improved #7 BunaB," in 1951, which cost $0.98, or two for $2.00.
The Improved #7 BunaB consisted of two 1.75-inch pieces of insulated wire, taped together at the ends. It came in a small plastic case intended for a clarinet reed, with the gold-embossed slogan, "Genuine, Improved, #7 BunaB." Crowder made the Improved #7 in his home in Mason City, Iowa, but he promoted it as being the creation of a company called Orville K. Snav and Associates. Crowder even referred to his home as Snav Towers.
In the instruction manual, Crowder wrote:
"The #7 will, with reasonable care, give years of trouble-free service. It has been scientifically inspected and checked against the master model at the factory. The Improved #7 BunaB will meet or exceed specifications set up by the industry for accuracy, durability and simplicity of operation. No moving parts insures constant stability."
In addition to a couple of wires and a plastic box, the #7 came with a registration card. If you filled this out and mailed it back to Crowder, he'd send a personal letter back (in the guise of Orville K. Snav, "the Wizard of Lime Creek"), discussing fictional happenings of Snav and his associates. In Crowder's world, Snav was repeatedly snubbed for the Nobel Prize, held months-long parties in his tower, and had not been seen since "the incident in Peoria."
Along with the letter from Crowder, registration card returnees instantly earned the title "Assistant to the President of BunaB International," though Crowder himself reserved the title of "Chief Assistant to the President." By one estimate, over 40,000 Improved #7s were sold by the time of Crowder's death in 1981. (After Crowder's death, his wife Louise continued the business, answering correspondence under the pseudonym Dame Minerva P. Snav.) A number of famous folks owned their own #7s, including all seven of the original Mercury astronauts.
THE REST OF THE BUNAB PRODUCT LINE
Although it began with the Improved #7, Crowder's BunaB product line expanded over time. Most of them were available for $0.98 each or a dozen for $12.00. Here's a breakdown of the product line:
BunaB #2: Zudirk. A small, unplayable board game. It included a game board, pieces, and a note that read "Totally unplayable, no matter how many times you read the instructions."
BunaB #3: The Man's Between Shave Lotion. An empty bottle whose contents could be restored just by adding water. Designed to be applied during the 23.75-hour period between the Men's Before Shave Lotion and Men's After Shave Lotion. (Neither existed.) Originally priced at $117 per barrel, the $0.98 version was a "new Giant Petite" size, containing 960 minims.
BunaB #4: Micro-Precision Dial. An on/off dial. Included a sticky pad to attach it to things.
BunaB #5: Companion to TV. A 12-inch vinyl record containing no sound, designed to be played while watching TV. (Crowder suggested that it was a recording of the original soundtrack to a silent film.) Priced at $3.95 but never actually available, hence "a savings to you of $3.95."
BunaB #6: Very Similar to #7. Actually virtually identical to the Improved #7.
OTHER SNAV PRODUCTS
In addition to the core BunaB line, Orville K. Snav and Associates produced a handful of products. The most notable was the Post Meridian Morning (PMM) Shield, an opaque half-circle intended to block out the morning hours on a clock so that the day started at 12:01 p.m. Crowder called the morning "one of the anathemas of modern civilization."
Another product: the "Exigency Conversion Apparatus" (ECA), which allowed the user to convert any room into a restroom by applying a decal to the door. Yet another was the Primeval Combustion Device (PCD), which involved rubbing two sticks together to make fire.
The best-known Snav product remains the Improved #7. That product was the basis for an April 1958 profile of Crowder in Playboy. In the article, writer Bernard Asbell described the Improved #7:
It does nothing—physically, that is. But psychologically, it's as miraculous as digital computers or any of the complex gadgets, of real or dubious import, that crowd our ulcerous machine civilization. Its devotees look upon it as a tiny, clear Bronx cheer aimed at our mechanized age, a parody of rampant technology and its highly touted advantages.
BUNAB ON CAMPUS
In addition to its popularity with astronauts and celebrities, BunaB products made inroads on college campuses in the 70s, in time for Crowder to enjoy the success before he died from prostate cancer in 1981. Author John Peterson recalled in his book The True-Life Adventures of Captain Wa Wah:
... During an unusually tense political period on campus in 1970, I sent a #7 to one of the leaders of the radical student groups who was known for his serious and uncompromising political positions. He never smiled. About two weeks after he received his BunaB, I asked him if he had received his #7 and whether or not he had become an Assistant to The President [...]. A sheepish grin came slowly to his face. And he said, "Orville K. Snav is a very wise man."
Special thanks to Rochelle Higgins for creating the artist's conception of the Improved #7.