Lonnie Johnson (inventor)
|Lonnie George Johnson|
Johnson in 2016
October 6, 1949 |
Mobile, Alabama, United States
|Education||Williamson High School|
|Alma mater||Tuskegee University|
|Known for||Super Soaker|
Lonnie George Johnson (born October 6, 1949) is an American inventor and engineer who holds more than 80 patents. 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.
Johnson's father was a World War II veteran and his mother worked as a nurse's aide and they lived in Mobile, Alabama. 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. In his teenage years, Johnson attended the all-black Williamson High School in Mobile. He drew much of his inspiration from George Washington Carver. In 1968, Johnson represented his high school in the Alabama science fair. He was the only black student in the fair, at the time when blacks were discouraged away from science. 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 math scholarship. When he finished, he earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a M.S. in Nuclear Engineering from Tuskegee University.
- 1978–79: "U.S. Air Force Weapons Laboratory, acting chief of Space Nuclear Power Safety section"
- 1979–82: "Jet Propulsion Laboratory, senior systems engineer, Galileo Project"
- 1982–85: "U.S. Air Force, Advanced Space Systems Requirements manager for non-nuclear strategic weapons technology"
- 1985–87: "U.S. Air Force, Strategic Air Command, chief of data management branch"
- 1987–91: "Engineer on Mariner Mark ll Spacecraft series for Comet Rendezvous and Saturn Orbiter Probe missions"
- 1991-: "Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc., founder and president"
After college, Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force, where he worked on the stealth bomber program. Later, he worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab with the nuclear power source for the Galileo mission to Jupiter. 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.
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.
Johnson is a "part of a small group of African-American inventors whose work accounts for 6 percent of all U.S. patent applications."
While 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 (officially there is not a space between Super and Soaker). On October 14, 1983 he applied for a U.S. patent. On May 27, 1986 he received patent number 4,591,071. Initially it was called the “Power Drencher” when it appeared in toy shops in 1990, but after some tweaks and remarketing, it got its official name. Selling between $10 to $60 depending on the model, the Super Soaker took off, generating $200 million in sales in 1991. Shortly after making the deal for the Super Soaker with the Larami Corporation, Larami became a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc. in February 1995. But being an inventor, Johnson came up with another idea: replacing the water in the SuperSoaker with a "toy [Nerf] projectile." In 1996, Johnson received patent US5553598 A for "Pneumatic launcher for a toy projectile and the like." These Nerf toy guns have generated millions for Hasbro and Johnson.
Unfortunately, Johnson discovered he was underpaid royalties for the Super Soaker and several "Nerf line of toys, specifically the N-Strike and Dart Tag brands." In November 2013, Johnson was awarded nearly $73 million in royalties from Hasbro Inc. in arbitration. According to Hasbro, the Super Soaker is approaching sales of $1 billion.
Johnson lives with his wife, Linda Moore, and their four children in Atlanta, Georgia.
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- Lonnie G. Johnson (May 27, 1986). "Patent US4591071 - Squirt gun". Google Patents. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
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