Lonnie Johnson (inventor)

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Lonnie George Johnson
Lonnie Johnson, Office of Naval Research (crop).jpg
Johnson in 2016
Born (1949-10-06) October 6, 1949 (age 71)[1]
EducationWilliamson High School
Alma materTuskegee University
OccupationEngineer, inventor
Years active1978–2012
Known forSuper Soaker

Lonnie George Johnson (born October 6, 1949) is an American inventor, aerospace engineer, and entrepreneur, whose work history includes a U.S. Air Force term of service and a twelve-year stint at NASA, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He invented the Super Soaker water gun in 1990, which has been among the world's bestselling toys ever since.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born in Mobile, Alabama.[3] His father was a World War II veteran and his mother worked as a nurse's aide. He stated that he had "liked to tinker with things" from an early age when his father explained to him the basic principles of electricity.[4]

In his teenage years, Johnson attended the all-black Williamson High School in Mobile.[5] He drew much of his inspiration from George Washington Carver.[6] In 1968, Johnson represented his high school in the Alabama science fair. He was the only black student in the fair at a time when African Americans did not have much presence in science.[4] He created a robot he named "Linex", which was a compressed-air powered robot and took home first prize.[4]

After graduating from high school, Johnson attended Tuskegee University, obtaining a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in nuclear engineering.[2][7] He also holds an honorary Ph.D. in Science from Tuskegee University.[8] He then worked for the U.S. Air Force, and then joined NASA's jet propulsion laboratory in 1979.[3]


During his time at NASA, from 1979 to 1991, Johnson worked on a variety of projects, including the Air Force missions Lab, developing the nuclear power source for the Galileo mission to Jupiter,[9] several weapons related projects, as well as an engineer on the Mariner Mark ll Spacecraft series for Comet Rendezvous and Saturn Orbiter Probe missions."[10] Johnson also worked on the stealth bomber program.[11]

In 1991, Johnson founded his own company, Johnson Research and Development Co., Inc., of which he is also the president.[10]

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.[9]

Johnson currently has two technology-development companies: Excellatron Solid State, LLC and Johnson Electro-Mechanical Systems (JEMS). They both currently operate in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta.

Excellatron Solid State, LLC is a U.S. -based technology company that focuses on the development and production of solid state batteries, particularly thin film batteries. Its mission is stated as “…to develop revolutionary energy storage technology as well as the manufacturing technology required for its cost effective commercialization.” The company's batteries boast safety, high temperature capability, long cycle life, thin flexible profiles, unique proprietary passivation barrier and packaging solution, and high rate capability. The company is targeting military applications and implantable medical devices as initial consumers.[12]

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.[13] The companies operate a research laboratory in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta.[14]

Lonnie Johnson with US Representative Bradley Byrne in 2018.

Johnson is a "part of a small group of African-American inventors whose work accounts for 6 percent of all U.S. patent applications."[15]

Super Soaker[edit]

Johnson conceived the Super Soaker while doing work with the U.S. Air Force. Initially it was called the “Power Drencher” when it appeared in toy shops in 1990, but after some tweaks and remarketing, it got its name.[13] Selling between $10 to $60 depending on the model, the Super Soaker took off, generating $200 million in sales in 1991.[2] Shortly after making the deal for the Super Soaker with the Larami Corporation, Larami became a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc. in February 1995.[16]

Johnson tweaked the design of the water gun, replacing the water in the Super Soaker with a "toy [Nerf] projectile." In 1996, Johnson received A U.S. Patent 5553598 A [17] for "Pneumatic launcher for a toy projectile and the like."

In February 2013, Johnson filed suit against Hasbro after he discovered that he was being underpaid royalties for the Super Soaker and several Nerf line of toys.[18] 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.[19]


Johnson was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He received several awards from NASA for his work in spacecraft system design at the jet propulsion laboratory.[8] In 2008, he was awarded the Breakthrough Award from science magazine Popular Mechanics for his work related to JTEC and was inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2011.[6][20]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson lives with his wife and their four children in Georgia, USA.[2]


  1. ^ Broad, William J. Engineer At Play: Lonnie Johnson -Rocket Scientist, Served Up Soggy, July 31, 2001, The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d "Lonnie George Johnson". Biography.com. A&E Television Networks. 2014. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Lonnie G. Johnson | African American Inventors | Scholastic.com". teacher.scholastic.com. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
  4. ^ a b c "The father of the Super Soaker". BBC News. 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
  5. ^ Ward, Logan (November 2010). "Shooting for the Sun". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  6. ^ a b "BHM Highlight: Lonnie G Johnson, Air Force engineer and inventor of the Super Soaker". Liberty Science Center. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
  7. ^ "Inventor, alumnus Lonnie Johnson '73 returns to Tuskegee for Feb. 23 public lecture | Tuskegee University". www.tuskegee.edu. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
  8. ^ a b "Award Honoree". Trumpet Awards. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b "Lonnie G. Johnson 1949–". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  11. ^ "Summer Inventions: A NASA Engineer Created the Super Soaker?!". Biography.com. A&E Television Networks. 2014-07-21. Retrieved 2014-07-25.
  12. ^ "Excellatron – the Company". www.excellatron.com. Retrieved 2017-02-17.
  13. ^ a b Kremer, William (August 16, 2016). "Lonnie Johnson: The father of the Super Soaker". BBC News. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  14. ^ Wheeler, Candace (July 16, 2015). "Super Soaker Inventor Now Engineers Batteries At Atlanta Lab". WABE. Retrieved July 31, 2015.
  15. ^ Karlin, S. (2002-07-01). "From squirts to hertz [Lonnie Johnson, inventor]". IEEE Spectrum. 39 (7): 46–48. doi:10.1109/MSPEC.2002.1015464. ISSN 0018-9235.
  16. ^ "Larami Super Soakers Is Whetting Hasbro Inc.'s Appetite This Is The Third Time The Toy Maker Has Been Sold". philly-archives. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  17. ^ Johnson, Lonnie G.; Applewhite, John T. (Sep 10, 1996), Pneumatic launcher for a toy projectile and the like, retrieved 2016-10-10
  18. ^ Seward, Christopher. "Super Soaker creator awarded $72.9M from Hasbro". ajc. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  19. ^ "Super Soaker". National Toy Hall of Fame.
  20. ^ Tribune, Atlanta (2017-12-05). "2017 Hall of Fame Inductee: Dr. Lonnie Johnson". Atlanta Tribune. Retrieved 2020-02-11.

General references[edit]

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