Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
LONNIE G. JOHNSON
For years, Lonnie G. Johnson has been inventing thermodynamics systems for
NASA and other organizations; but he has won his greatest fame for re-inventing
the squirt gun.
Johnson capped a childhood of tinkering with appliances in his senior year
of high school, when he won a national inventing competition
for "Linex," a remote-control robot he had built out of junkyard
scraps. He went on to more formal training at Tuskegee University,
where he earned first a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (1972)
and then an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering (1974).
Soon thereafter, Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force, where
he became an Advanced Space Systems Requirements Officer at
the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska.
After directing many projects and earning several decorations,
as well as a Nomination for Astronaut Training, Johnson moved
on to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Here
he helped develop thermodynamic and controls systems for space
projects, including award-winning work for the Galileo Jupiter
probe and the Mars Observer project; his crowning achievement
at JPL was the Johnson Tube, a CFC-free refrigeration system
with a hydraulic heat pump, which later earned Johnson his
seventh patent (#4,724,683; 1988).
While with the USAF and JPL, Johnson continued to invent
at home. In 1985, he founded his own company, later renamed
Johnson Research and Development.. Johnson had first conceived
his most famous invention in 1982: when a homemade nozzle
at his bathroom sink shot a spray of water across the room,
Johnson resolved to invent the world's first high-performance,
pressurized water gun.
Johnson with partner Bruce D'Andrade finally created a workable
prototype of the now famous SuperSoaker® in 1989. They
filed for a joint patent (granted 1991) and found a manufacturer,
Larami Corp. (now a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.). The SuperSoaker®
uses an air pump to pressurize its water supply, allowing
for tremendous distance and accuracy in water-marksmanship.
Those unfamiliar with this product cannot appreciate its popularity:
since 1990, over 40 million SuperSoakers® have generated
over $200 million in sales; today, dozens of websites are
devoted to them.
Meanwhile, Johnson has earned over 40 patents, and continues to invent in the
realms of thermo- and fluid dynamics as well as toys. In addition to ongoing
controls work for NASA, Johnson and his company are developing an improved home
radon detector, a rechargeable battery, and a heat pump that uses water instead
of freon, among other projects.
Lonnie Johnson has won numerous honors for his success in inventing and entrepreneurship,
and his constant encouragement of young people to invent. He is a legendary
businessman and public figure in his hometown of Marietta, Georgia---whose Mayor
declared February 25, 1994 "Lonnie G. Johnson Day" in his honor---and, thanks
to the SuperSoaker®, he is a hero to kids nationwide.