Lonnie Johnson (inventor)

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Lonnie George Johnson
Born (1949-10-06) October 6, 1949 (age 66)[1]
Mobile, Alabama, United States
Nationality American
Education Williamson High School
Alma mater Tuskegee University
Occupation Engineer, inventor
Known for Super Soaker

Lonnie George Johnson (born October 6, 1949) is an African American inventor and engineer who holds more than 80 patents.[2] Johnson is best known for inventing the Super Soaker water gun, which has ranked among the world's top 20 best-selling toys every year since its release.[3]

Early life[edit]

Johnson's father was a World War II veteran and his mother worked as a nurse's aide. As a child, Johnson was very innovative and curious. Some of this curiosity coming at the expense of his family's possessions. He reverse engineered his sister's doll to understand how the eyes closed. He also almost burned down his own house while making rocket fuel. In addition, he built his own go-cart out of a lawnmower engine he attached to scraps he found in the junkyard.[3] In his teenage years, Johnson attended the all-black Williamson High School in Mobile.[4][5] He drew much of his inspiration from George Washington Carver. In 1968, Johnson represented his high school in the science fair. He was the only black student in the fair. He created a robot he named "Linex", which was a compressed-air powered robot; he took home first prize. Johnson then went on to attend college at Tuskegee University on a scholarship. When he finished, he earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a M.S. in Nuclear Engineering from Tuskegee University.[3]



  • 1978–79: "U.S. Air Force Weapons Laboratory, acting chief of Space Nuclear Power Safety section"[6]
  • 1979–82: "Jet Propulsion Laboratory, senior systems engineer, Galileo Project"[6]
  • 1982–85: "U.S. Air Force, Advanced Space Systems Requirements manager for non-nuclear strategic weapons technology"[6]
  • 1985–87: "U.S. Air Force, Strategic Air Command, chief of data management branch"[6]
  • 1987–91: "Engineer on Mariner Mark ll Spacecraft series for Comet Rendezvous and Saturn Orbiter Probe missions"[6]
  • 1991-: "Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc., founder and president"[6]

After college, Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force, where he worked on the stealth bomber program.[7] Later, he worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab with the nuclear power source for the Galileo mission to Jupiter.[8] More recently, he teamed up with scientists from Tulane University and Tuskegee University to develop a method of transforming heat into electricity with the goal of making green energy more affordable.[8]

Two of Johnson’s companies, Excellatron Solid State and Johnson Electro-Mechanical Systems (JEMS), are developing technology. Excellatron is introducing thin film batteries, a new generation of rechargeable battery technology. JEMS has developed the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System (JTEC), listed by Popular Mechanics as one of the top 10 inventions of 2009. This system has potential applications in solar power plants and ocean thermal power generation. It converts thermal energy to electrical energy using a non-steam process which works by pushing hydrogen ions through two membranes, with claimed advantages over alternative systems. The companies operate a research laboratory in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta.[9]

Johnson also sought out to cut solar costs in half. To do so, he came up with the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion System, or more simply JTEC. It works by having hydrogen flow between two membrane-electrode assemblies. It's similar to a fuel cell, but unlike a fuel cell JTEC is a closed system. Because of this, the JTEC creates no waste-products nor does it need any external fuel sources. It only needs heat. Therefore, the larger the temperature difference, the higher the efficiency. [10]

Super Soaker[edit]

Whilst doing work with the U.S. Air Force, he still had time for his hobbies. This is when he first thought of the Super Soaker. On October 14, 1983 he applied for a U.S. patent. On May 27, 1986 he received patent number 4,591,071.[11][6] Initially it was called the “Power Drencher”, but after some tweaks and remarketing, it got its official name. The Super Soaker topped out at $200 million in annual sales in 1991.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson lives with his wife, Linda Moore, and their four children in Atlanta, Georgia.[3]


Inline citations[edit]

  1. ^ Broad, William J. Engineer At Play: Lonnie Johnson -Rocket Scientist, Served Up Soggy, July 31, 2001, The New York Times.
  2. ^ "Lonnie Johnson". TEDxAtlanta (TED). 2014-05-06. Retrieved 2014-07-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Lonnie George Johnson". Biography.com (A&E Television Networks). 2014. Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
  4. ^ Ward, Logan (November 2010). "Shooting for the Sun". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014-07-25. 
  5. ^ Edgar Alvarez (February 27, 2015). "Lonnie Johnson, the rocket scientist and Super Soaker inventor". Engadget. Retrieved April 3, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Lonnie G. Johnson 1949–". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Summer Inventions: A NASA Engineer Created the Super Soaker?!". Biography.com (A&E Television Networks). 2014-07-21. Retrieved 2014-07-25. 
  8. ^ a b Pagan, Kennedy (August 2, 2013). "Who Made That Super Soaker?". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
  9. ^ Wheeler, Candace (July 16, 2015). "Super Soaker Inventor Now Engineers Batteries At Atlanta Lab". WABE. Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  10. ^ Ward, Logan (December 31, 2007). "Super Soaker Inventor Aims to Cut Solar Costs in Half". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
  11. ^ Lonnie G. Johnson (May 27, 1986). "Patent US4591071 - Squirt gun". Google Patents. Retrieved 20 April 2016. 

General references[edit]

External links[edit]