The toy called super soaker was invented by a man named Lonnie Johnson. And he isn’t only a toy inventor! Johnson has worked for the U.S. Air Force and NASA and owns his own company today.
Lonnie Johnson was born in 1949 in Mobile, Alabama. When Johnson was a kid, his father taught him about electricity. Together, they practiced fixing home appliances. For Johnson, this sparked a deep interest in science and technology.
When he was a senior in high school, Johnson entered a science fair. It was held by the University of Alabama’s Junior Engineering Technical Society. Johnson was the only Black student to enter. He had attended segregated schools his entire life at that point.
What was Johnson’s science fair project? It was a robot named Linex that Johnson built himself. Linex impressed the judges and won Johnson first place. The following year, he began college at Tuskegee University.
In 1975, Johnson left Tuskegee with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He spent the next four years working in the Air Force.
Johnson joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1979. There, he worked on the Galileo Mission. This mission sent an uncrewed spacecraft to study Jupiter. Johnson’s work mainly dealt with developing a nuclear power source for the craft.
During his time at NASA, Johnson also started designing what would become the Super Soaker. And, like many great discoveries and inventions, it began as an accident! While experimenting at home with a nozzle for a new refrigeration system, he accidentally shot a stream of water across the room.
Right away, Johnson realized this accident could become a fun game. Over the next few years, he developed a prototype for a toy that could send water flying across long distances. Eventually, a toy company called Larami picked up this design. The company began selling Johnson’s creation in 1990. They initially called it the Power Drencher.
After some initial success, Larami renamed the toy the Super Soaker in 1991. That year, sales took off. So far over 250 million Super Soakers have been sold. It was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2015.
Today, inventor Lonnie Johnson owns over 100 patents. He also started his own company, Johnson Research and Development. He is currently working to develop all-ceramic batteries and a new converter for solar power plants. Now we surely do know who invented the super soaker.
Johnson also mentors youths interested in technology and engineering. He’s especially interested in supporting young inventors of color, who are currently underrepresented in engineering.
Content for this question contributed by Russell Olson, resident of El Cajon, San Diego County, California, USA