Lonnie Johnson,creator of The Super Soaker Toy Gun

Lonnie Johnson, African-American inventor, engineer, and creator of one of the most popular toys in the world, the Super Soaker squirt gun, was born on October 6, 1949 in Mobile, Alabama.

Lonnie Johnson, African-American inventor, engineer, and creator of one of the most popular toys in the world, the Super Soaker squirt gun, was born on October 6, 1949 in Mobile, Alabama.

His father, a WW11 veteran, worked as a civilian driver at a nearby Air Force bases, and his mother was a laundress and nurse’s aid. His parents also picked cotton on his grandfather’s farm. His father was a handyman who taught his children to build their own toys. When he was a small boy, he and his dad built a pressurized Chinaberry shooter out of bamboo shoots. When he was 13 he attached a lawnmower engine to a go-cart which he had built from junkyard scraps and raced it on the highway until he got stopped by the police.

Johnson curious by nature, dreamed of becoming a famous inventor, and became more experimental in his inventions, often to the despair of his family. He once tore up his sister’s baby doll to see what made the eyes close. Another time he attempted to cook up rocket fuel in his mother’s saucepans and the concoction exploded.

Johnson grew up in the Deep South where legal segregation and pervasive racism was rampant. He attended an all-black school, Williamson High School, where he was told not to aspire beyond a technician for a career. He was inspired by George Washington Carver, an African-American inventor and persisted in his dream of becoming an inventor.

He became known as “The Professor” by his buddies, as a senior he represented his high school at the 1968 Alabama State Science fair, which took place at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The same place where five years earlier, Governor Wallace had stood in the doorway of the auditorium barring entrance to two black students for enrollment to the school. He was the only black student in the competition. He entered a compressed-air-powered robot called ‘the Linex’ that he had built from junkyard scraps over the year. He won first prize, a $250 reward, and a plaque—much to the displeasure of the university officials.

In 1969, Johnson graduated from the last segregated class from Williamson High School. He earned a scholarship to Tuskegee University and earned a B.A. In mechanical engineering in 1973 and then a M.A., in nuclear engineering in 1975.

Johnson then joined the Air Force and became an important member of the government scientific establishment. Assigned to the Strategic Air Command he helped develop the stealth bomber program.

He worked as a systems engineer for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn, he also analyzed plutonium fuel spheres at the Savannah River National Laboratory.

He continued to work on his own inventions in his spare time, and a project he worked on was an environmentally friendly heat pump that used water instead of Freon. His prototype was completed in 1982 and was tested it in his bathtroom, thus the Super Soaker Squirt Gun was born.

In 1989 he quit the Air Force and went into business for himsef. He sold his device to the Larami Corporation and it went into mass production, it is still ranked the top 20 bestselling toy in the world.

Johnson after finding success founded his own company, Johnson Research & Development and acquired over 100 patents. Some inventions like the ceramic battery, heatless hair rollers achieved success, but the diaper that played a nursery rhyme when soiled, wasn’t successful.

His most recent and important project, the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy converter (JTEC), an advanced heat engine that converts solar energy into electricity with twice the efficiency of current methods and without any moving parts. The JTEC has the potential to make solar power competitive with coal, creating an efficient, renewable solar energy. He hopes to have it operable within the next few years.

Today Lonnie and his wife Linda Moore have four chilren an live in Ansley Park in Atlanta, Georgia.

Johnson is a rare scientist, an independent inventor working outside the scientific establishment, he is one of the most successful inventors and entrepreneurs of his generation. If he perfects the JTEC he will have contributed to history as one of the most innovative figures of the green technology revolution.

Paul Werbos of the National Science Foundation states about Johnson’s work, ‘its a whole new family of technology, like discovering a new continent, you don’t know what there, but you want to find out, and it has the chance of being the best thing in the world.’

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