Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Natalie. Natalie Wonders, “Who was Lonnie Johnson?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Natalie!
Do you have a favorite toy? Really think about it. There are so many great toys out there that can create hours of fun. There’s the yo-yo, of course, and the Slinky. There’s the Rubik’s Cube, bouncy ball, and Barbie. But the toy at the center of today’s Wonder of the Day may eclipse them all!
What are we talking about? The Super Soaker, of course! For many kids, there’s nothing better on a hot summer day. Shooting jets of water at friends and family members can be a lot of fun! It’s no WONDER the Super Soaker is one of the most popular toys of all time.
Have you ever WONDERed 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 today owns his own company.
Lonnie Johnson was born in 1949 in Mobile, Alabama. When Johnson was a kid, his father taught him about electricity. Together, they practiced fixing home appliances. For Johnson, this sparked a deep interest in science and technology.
When he was a senior in high school, Johnson entered a science fair. It was held by the University of Alabama’s Junior Engineering Technical Society. Johnson was the only Black student to enter. In fact, he had attended segregated schools his entire life at that point.
What was Johnson’s science fair project? It was a robot named Linex that Johnson built himself. Linex impressed the judges and won Johnson first place. The next year, he began college at Tuskegee University.
In 1975, Johnson left Tuskegee with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He spent the next four years working in the Air Force.
Johnson joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1979. There, he worked on the Galileo Mission. This mission sent an uncrewed spacecraft to study Jupiter. Johnson’s work mainly dealt with developing a nuclear power source for the craft.
It was during his time at NASA that Johnson also started designing what would become the Super Soaker. And, like many great discoveries and inventions, it started as an accident! While experimenting at home with a nozzle for a new refrigeration system, he accidentally shot a stream of water across the room.
Right away, Johnson realized this accident could become a fun game. Over the next few years, he developed a prototype for a toy that could send water flying across long distances. Eventually, the design was picked up by a toy company called Larami. The company began selling Johnson’s design in 1990. They originally called it the Power Drencher.
After some initial success, Larami renamed the toy the Super Soaker in 1991. That year, sales really took off. To date, over 250 million Super Soakers have been sold. It was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2015.
Today, inventor Lonnie Johnson owns over 100 patents. He also started his own company, Johnson Research and Development. He is currently working to develop all-ceramic batteries and a new converter for solar power plants.
Johnson also mentors youths interested in technology and engineering. He’s especially interested in supporting young inventors of color, who are currently underrepresented in the field of engineering.
It takes a great deal of creativity to become a successful inventor. What toy would you invent? Would you improve upon the Super Soaker? Maybe you’ll come up with an entirely new idea one day!
Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.3, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.W.1, CCRA.SL.3, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.SL.2