Lonnie George Johnson (b. 1949) is an aerospace engineer whose career includes working with a stealth bomber program for the U.S. Air Force and at NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is chiefly known for something else though, as he is the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun.
Johnson holds over 250 different patents, most of which are for the Super Soaker. He is also the author of several publications on spacecraft power systems.
A majority of Johnson´s earnings from the Super Soaker is being reinvested in research and development in his owns companies which are focused on energy technology.
The Super Soaker
Johnson invented the Power Drencher water gun in 1989. He established his own law firm and licensed the water gun to the Larami Corporation. Initially, he called it the Power Drencher, and it was sold under this name in shops in 1990. After some tweaks, it was re-branded and sold as the Super Soaker.
Within two years, the toy had generated over $200 million in retail sales. The Super Soaker water gun was the top-selling toy in the United States from 1991 to 1992, and it was available in several models, which retailed for $10 to $60.
Today, the Super Soaker remains a popular toy and total retail sales are approaching 1 billion USD.
The Larami Corporation was acquired by Hasbro Inc. in 1995.
In February 2013, Johnson sued Hasbro after discovering that he was not being paid the correct royalties for the Super Soaker and several Nerf line toys in 2007-2012. In November that same year, Johnson was awarded nearly $73 million in royalties in arbitration.
Johnson was born in Mobile, Alabama, USA in 1949. His mother had a high school education and worked as a nurse´s aide. His father, who never finished high school, was a World War II veteran.
As a child, Johnson liked to tinker with things, and once tore up his sister´s doll to find why the eyes could open and close. Among his peers in the neighbourhood, he earned the moniker “The Professor”. Once, he nearly caused a house fire while attempting to cook up rocket fuel in a saucepan.
Johnson went to the all-black Williamson High School in Mobile. When he represented his high school at a 1968 science fair in Alabama, he was the only black student in attendance. With his robot, which was powered by compressed air, he won first price.
In 1969, Johnson enrolled at the Tuskegee University, where he obtained a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1973 and a master´s degree in nuclear engineering in 1975.
George Washington Carver (c. 1864-1943) was an inspiration for the young Johnson. Born into slavery, Carver became a prominent agricultural scientist and inventor who promoted alternative crops and farming methods to prevent soil depletion.
- After his time at university, Johnson worked on a stealth bomber program for the U.S. Air Force.
- He began working at NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1979.
- During his time at NASA, Johnson was involved with a variety of projects, including one that developed a nuclear power source for the Galileo mission to Jupiter. He was also one of the engineers behind the Mariner Mark II Spacecraft series.
- Johnson established his own company Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc in 1991. He now also has the technology-development companies Excellatron Solid State, LLC and Johnson Electro-Mechanical Systems (JEMS).
- JEMS developed the famous Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System (JTEC).
- At the time of writing, Johnsson is working on a green energy project with scientists from Tulane University and Tuskegee University.
Examples of accolades
- The Air Force Achievement Medal
- The Air Force Commendation Medal
- An honorary Ph. D. in Science from Tuskegee University
- Several awards from NASA for his spacecraft system design work
- The Popular Mechanics 2008 Breakthrough Award for his work on JTEC
- Johnson was inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2011.
- The Nerf Super Soaker Shot Blast was declared “Outdoor Toy of the Year” at the Annual Toy of the Year Awards in 2011.
- The Super Soaker was inducted into the U.S. National Toy Hall of Fame in 2015.