The Inventor of the Super Soaker

Do you have a preferred plaything? Take a moment to consider it. There are numerous fantastic toys available that can provide hours of enjoyment. There’s the yo-yo, naturally, and the Slinky. There’s the Rubik’s Cube, bouncy ball, and Barbie. However, the toy at the heart of today’s Wonder of the Day might surpass them all!

What are we referring to? The Super Soaker, certainly! For many children, there’s nothing better on a scorching summer day. Shooting jets of water at friends and family members can be a lot of fun! It’s no surprise that the Super Soaker is one of the most beloved playthings of all time.

Have you ever wondered about the person who invented the Super Soaker? The toy was created by a man named Lonnie Johnson. And he isn’t only a toy inventor! Johnson has worked for the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and now owns his own company.

Lonnie Johnson was born in 1949 in Mobile, Alabama. When Johnson was a child, his father taught him about electricity. Together, they practiced repairing household appliances. For Johnson, this ignited a profound interest in science and technology.

When he was a high school senior, Johnson participated in a science fair. It was hosted by the University of Alabama’s Junior Engineering Technical Society. Johnson was the sole African American student to participate. In fact, up until that point, he had only attended racially segregated schools.

What was Johnson’s science fair project? It was a robot named Linex that Johnson constructed himself. Linex impressed the judges and won Johnson first place. The following year, he enrolled at Tuskegee University.

In 1975, Johnson graduated from Tuskegee with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He spent the next four years serving in the Air Force.

Johnson joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1979. While there, he contributed to the Galileo Mission, which involved sending an unmanned spacecraft to study Jupiter. Johnson’s work primarily focused on developing a nuclear power source for the craft.

It was during his time at NASA that Johnson also began designing what would eventually become the Super Soaker. And, like many groundbreaking discoveries and inventions, it originated from an accident! While conducting experiments at home with a nozzle for a new refrigeration system, he unintentionally shot a stream of water across the room.

Immediately, Johnson recognized that this accident could be transformed into a fun game. Over the next few years, he developed a prototype for a toy that could propel water across long distances. Eventually, the design was acquired by a toy company called Larami. The company started selling Johnson’s design in 1990. Initially, it was known as the Power Drencher.

After some initial success, Larami rebranded the toy as the Super Soaker in 1991. That year, sales skyrocketed. To date, over 250 million Super Soakers have been sold. In 2015, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Today, inventor Lonnie Johnson holds over 100 patents. He has also established his own company, Johnson Research and Development. Currently, he is working on developing all-ceramic batteries and a new converter for solar power plants.

Johnson also serves as a mentor to young people interested in technology and engineering. He is particularly committed to supporting young inventors of color, who are currently underrepresented in the field of engineering.

Becoming a successful inventor requires a lot of creativity. If you were to invent a toy, what would it be? Maybe you could even improve upon the Super Soaker or come up with a completely new idea in the future!

Give it a Try

Enlist the help of a friend or family member to participate in the following activities!

  • If you want to learn more about Lonnie Johnson’s life and how he invented the Super Soaker, you can check out an article about him on blackpast.org. What do you find most interesting about his life and career? Is it the fact that he worked for NASA? Or maybe it’s because he’s in Alabama’s Engineering Hall of Fame? Share some fascinating facts about Lonnie Johnson with a friend or family member.
  • In today’s Wonder, the Super Soaker is discussed, along with other famous toys like the yo-yo, Slinky, and Rubik’s Cube. Can you think of any other well-known toys? Have you ever played with any of them? Write a few paragraphs to convince a friend or family member to play with your favorite famous toy. Share your writing with them and see if they’re persuaded!
  • How does a Super Soaker actually work? Get a family member or trusted adult to assist you and try out an activity from the New York Public Library to find out.

Sources of Wonder

  • https://www.invent.org/inductees/lonnie-johnson (accessed 10 Feb. 2022)
  • https://www.biography.com/news/lonnie-johnson-invent-super-soaker (accessed 10 Feb. 2022)
  • https://allthatsinteresting.com/lonnie-johnson (accessed 10 Feb. 2022)
  • https://learnersdictionary.com/ (accessed 10 Feb. 2022)

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