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The tragic origin story of Nickelodeon’s famed children’s cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants is linked to U.S. nuclear weapon testing. Read more about the talking sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

Over 20 years ago, the SpongeBob universe was formed. This peculiar talking sponge landed in the homes of millions as fans watched SpongeBob and his quirky, sea creature friends live their unusual lives underwater. The cult classic cartoon has gone on to become a Broadway musical, earning 12 Tony Award nominations. Aside from being a critically-acclaimed cartoon, people simply love the world its creator Stephen Hillenburg designed.

Unfortunately, most SpongeBob fans have no idea where the show derived from, and they might be shocked at the creator’s twisted inspiration.

Bikini Bottom is the fictional home of the beloved SpongeBob SquarePants, and it is based on an actual place in the Pacific Ocean. The real place is Pikini Atoli, which became the home of 23 U.S. nuclear weapon tests during the Cold War era. Bikini is the anglicized, or colonial, spelling of Pikinni.

In the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations made the US the governing body for a vast strip of the northern Pacific, including the Marshall Islands. The U.S. subsequently used Bikini as one of two locations, along with Enewetak to the west of Bikini, to test and develop advancements in nuclear weapons technology during the Cold War.

Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. government detonated 67 nuclear weapons on these islands. In 1946, the U.S. government removed 167 Bikinians and relocated them to the islands of Rongerik, east of Bikini, where they experienced starvation because of inadequate food crop.

According to this anthropologist’s study, on March 1, 1954, a detonation on Bikini Atoll known as “Bravo” created a massive explosion equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. This monstrous detonation created real-life horror for Bikinians and their future generations. The displaced Bikini people consider themselves nomads as they can’t return to their native land due to extreme radiation contamination that will not dissipate for thousands of years.

In the 1970s, the U.S. government returned nearly 200 Bikinians to their home islands. Soon after, the government removed the people again in 1978, because they were found to have ingested more radioactive cesium from the environment than any known human population.

There are a few nods to these historic events in the cartoon like nuclear explosions, but not enough for most viewers to pick up on.  Some fans believe that this tale is a conspiracy theory and the creators have never confirmed this to be true, but the facts are all here.

Watch the video to learn more: