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Black Inventors and Innovators - Lonnie Johnson

Updated on February 27, 2011


I am writing about Lonnie Johnson at the request of my son.  My son’s main goal in life is to make his sisters life as miserable as possible and the one way he has been able to do that is through torture which has involved many things most notably water guns.  Before reading about Lonnie Johnson my son was not a big fan of science in fact science is his least favorite subject. Once I explained that science was the backbone of Johnson’s invention my son is now a little bit more interested in what science has to offer. 

Lonnie Johnson was born October 6, 1949 in Mobile, Alabama.  Johnson’s father worked at the Brookley Air Force Base and his mother was a homemaker and a nurse’s aide.  Johnson and his brothers learned from their father how to repair household items and to create their own toys.  Because of this Johnson took to a huge interest in science and inventing early on.  At one point Johnson tried to make rocket fuel out of sugar and saltpeter which exploded and burned up part of the kitchen.  Needless to say Johnson’s parents were not amused. 

By the time Johnson was a senior in high school he took part in and won the University of Alabama sponsored national science competition.  Johnson’s entry was a robot called Linex which was built from scraps he found around the house including his siblings’ toys. 

After high school Johnson received a mathematics scholarship to attend TuskeegeeUniversity and graduated with a Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and then received a Master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering.

After graduation Johnson took on numerous positions such as research engineer and then after joining and leaving the Air Force became a Senior Systems Engineer for NASA working on the Galileo Mission to Jupiter and the Mars Observer project.

Johnson would create his greatest invention while he was trying to develop a heat pump that would work by using water instead of Freon. What he figured out was that he had the makings for a great water gun. Most water guns would shoot water about eight feet but Johnson’s Super Soaker used a reservoir tank and air pressure to shoot water up to 50 feet. In the 10 years after Super Soaker went to market over 200 million were sold and the Super Soaker was the top selling toy in the United States in both 1991 and 1992.

The Super Soaker was Johnson’s most popular invention but not his only invention.  Johnson and his company Johnson Research and Development Co, Inc. holds almost 100 patents and has many contributions to the science world such as radon detectors, heat pumps and lithium battery products. 

Johnson, a rocket scientist, has contributed a great deal in his life time including the greatest water gun ever made.   



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    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      7 years ago from West Coast

      Thank you RA! I agree completely!

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 

      7 years ago

      I really like your black inventor hub series, it is so important to recognize the contributions of these role models and it inspires us to keep our dreams alive.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      7 years ago from West Coast

      Thank you Hello Hello!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      You can be so proud of you hub giving these people the deserved tribute. I enjoy every one of your hub. Thank you.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      7 years ago from West Coast

      Carolyn - I had to include my son. He was insistent to put it mildly. He has been asking me to do Lonnie Johnson from the beginning but I left it for the last. Thank you so much for the comments. This was no easy feat doing a hub a day but I felt it truly important and I have learned so much from it. I am both happy and sad that this month is over and that I have one last hub to do! Hmmm an ebook? Interesting idea.

    • BkCreative profile image


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I loooooove this! Well first I like how you introduced your son to this - I so like your style Triplet Mom - and I loooove the SuperSoaker. What child (and adult like me) wouldn't want one. I had an unfair water fight with a guy - he gave me this massive water gun - but then guess what he had? Good thing I am faster on my feet! Little did I know Lonnie Johnson was behind this.

      How nice to meet a true rocket scientist and I have written down his co. because I would like to explore further.

      Meanwhile, I am trying to keep up with all these hubs and I may just vote up some if time doesn't permit a comment but this one I am bookmarking as the lead in.

      Needless to say I am inspired anew today. I have felt pretty slackerish this last year - and sometimes we do need inspiration to energize us. Thanks a million $$$ for these informative and well done hubs. Perhaps an ebook by you?

      And rated way us of course.



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