It’s finally summertime! You know what that means! Summer cookouts, listening to “Summertime” from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince on repeat, and kids playing with water guns outside. Oh yes, water guns are all the rage during the summer, kids squirting each other with small water pistols, and maybe with some cool looking revolver type deals! But the kid that everyone feared? The kid who could get 5 kids at the same time? That was the kid with the Super Soaker. We have all heard of the Super Soaker, and how much fun it made water fights. They are  so much fun that adults still use them! Did you know that the creator of the Super Soaker was in the Air Force? Did you know he worked at NASA? Did you know he was Black? Well, allow me to introduce you to Dr. Lonnie Johnson.

Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1949, Dr. Johnson has always loved inventing and experimenting with things. We’re talking about a kid who took apart dolls just so he could see the mechanics of the eyes. We’re talking about a kid who almost set his house on fire because he was making rocket fuel. A kid who made a go-cart out of a lawnmower engine and scraps from a junkyard. Since he was young, he was destined for greatness.

Dr. Johnson attended Williamson High School, an all-Black high school in Mobile, Alabama. Because of his superhuman intelligence, his buddies nicknamed him “The Professor”. In 1968, the Professor showed how smart he was by representing his school at a 1968 science fair sponsored by JETS (Junior Engineering Technical Society) that took place at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Here, the Professor debuted the “Linex”: a compressed-air-powered robot. Needless to say, The Professor won first prize, while also being the only Black participant in 1968! He was so good that no one could play politics to have him lose, he was the easiest choice to win first prize!

After high school, Dr. Johnson attended Tuskegee University on a math scholarship. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1973 and received his masters degree in nuclear engineering 2 years later from the same school. After this, he worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and with the U.S. Air Force, helping them develop their stealth bomber program. This man is otherworldly in how intelligent he is.

After this in 1979, Dr. Johnson went to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and worked on the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn, both as a systems engineer. He returned to the Air Force 3 years later, staying there until 1987 and working for himself after that point. He was comfortable with this after his discovery in ’82.  In 1982, he decided to start making a prototype of something: the first Super Soaker.

While working in the Air Force, the creative mind never stopped for Dr. Johnson. He worked on his own inventions in his spare time. One of his projects included trying to make an environmentally friendly heat pump that used water, as opposed to Freon. He attached nozzles to the bathroom sink and when he opened the nozzles a powerful stream of water shot out. Dr. Johnson then thought, “This would be a pretty cool water gun”.

In 1989, after trying to perfect it and sell it, he sold his creation to the Larami Corportation, which is a subsidiary of Hasbro. As the “Power Drencher”, it sold well through word of mouth, but after being sold to a major corporation and changing the name to the popular “Super Soaker”, it sold like CRAZY. So much so that in 1991, the Super Soaker topped $200 million in sales. Keep in mind, this is two years after being sold to the Larami Corportation. Guess what? It doesn’t stop here!

In 1996, Dr. Johnson thought about replacing the water of the Super Soaker with a projectile. He received a patent for “Pneumatic launcher for a toy projectile and the like.” With this technology, he is indirectly responsible for Nerf guns, which also have sold millions. He also created the Johsnon Thermoelectric Energy Converter (JTEC), a device that can convert heat into electricity with far more efficiency than existing methods. This was named as one of the top 10 world changing inventions by Popular Mechanics in 2008.

Dr. Lonnie Johnson is more than an inventor and innovator. He is a complete genius! This man was making rocket fuel as a kid, made a whole robot in high school, developed the Air Force’s stealth bomber program, worked at NASA, and made a device that rivaled coal, petroleum, and natural gas in its efficiency. These are insane things that he has created, and to think that the Super Soaker was basically made on accident is something that’s even more mind-blowing! Dr. Johnson has invented an unbelievable amount since he was a child, and has invented so much that so many of us weren’t aware about! The best inventions and ideas tend to come when you are dreaming about something else, and I think that I speak for all of our inner children that we are thankful and appreciative that Dr. Johnson’s heat pump squirted out a stream of water. Why? Because without that, we wouldn’t have had the innovative Super Soaker, and possibly wouldn’t have Nerf guns either! Thank you, Dr. Lonnie Johnson, we will make sure that your name is not forgotten. MT Out!