Meet Lonnie Johnson, The Black Inventor Behind The Super Soaker

Born October 6, 1949, in Mobile, Alabama, Lonnie Johnson is an engineer and inventor who holds more than 120 patents, one of which is for the iconic top-selling water toy — the Super Soaker.

Johnson’s love for science came at an early age. In 1968, he represented his high school as the only Black student in a science fair when African Americans did not have a large presence in science.

He took home first prize. He went on to graduate from Tuskegee University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s in Nuclear Engineering

Following college, he joined the Air Force & helped develop their stealth bomber program. In 1979, he moved to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and then returned to the Air Force in 1982

 Soon after, his work on the Super Soaker began.

As a pet project, Johnson was worked on developing a heat pump that was environmentally friendly and used water instead of freon. He tested the prototype in his bathroom, aiming it at the bathtub.

The nozzle let off a powerful stream of water when he pulled the lever. Thus, the idea of the Super Soaker was born and on October 14, 1983, Johnson applied for a U.S. patent.

Johnson was given patent number 4,591,071 on May 27, 1986. In 1989, after tinkering with the design and pitching the invention, initially called the “Power Drencher,” he sold it to the Larami Corp.

The Power Drencher made very little impact AT FIRST and was pulled from shelves. However, after A FEW tweaks, it reEMERGED as the Super Soaker, selling between $10-$60, taking the market by storm.

In 1995 alone, the Super Soaker generated $200 million in sales.  However, Johnson drew concerned that he was not seeing his proper cut of the device’s royalties

So, in February 2013, Johnson took Hasbro Inc., who acquired Larami Corp, to court and discovered that he was being underpaid. 9 months later, he was awarded $73 million in royalties.

to learn more about the this pioneer, head over to afrotech!