Lonnie George Johnson is an African 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.

Born October 6, 1949 in Mobile, Alabama, Johnson was inspired by innovator George Washington Carver and took an early interest to inventing and science. While in high school – Williamson High School – he constructed a robot out of scrap which he named “Linex.” Linex won a state science fair in 1968, during Johnson’s senior year of high school. Johnson recalls being the only Black student in the competition, which was hosted by the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa — a place known for attempting to block black students from enrolling. “The only thing anybody from the university said to us during the entire competition was, ‘Goodbye,’ and, ‘Y’all drive safe now,'” he told Biography.com in an interview.  Eventually, Johnson earned the nickname “The Professor,” a moniker that years later would seem ever so fitting.

Based on academic merit and his science fair win, Johnson was awarded a math scholarship to Tuskegee University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in nuclear engineering in 1973 and 1975, respectively. He then decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, a World War II veteran, and joined the US Air Force, where he was assigned to the Strategic Air Command and worked on the development of the branch’s stealth bomber program. In 1979, Johnson began his career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There, he became involved with multiple ventures as a systems engineer, including the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Mars Observer project. He was also part of the Cassini mission to Saturn, helping design the robot probe that traveled more than 900 million miles to our ringed neighbor.

Johnson is best known as the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, one of the most popular toys in the world.

Even while working for the Air Force and NASA, Johnson used whatever spare time he had to tinker with side projects of his own. It was this way that the idea for the now-famous Super Soaker came about.

The squirt gun, which was originally known as the “Power Drencher,” was born after Johnson tried to create a water-based, eco-friendly heat pump that didn’t require any Freon. After making some jet pumps for it, he said to Popular Mechanics, “I accidentally shot a stream of water across a bathroom where I was doing the experiment and thought to myself, ‘This would make a great gun.'” Johnson added that the first version of the gun had the pressurized water and air inside a Plexiglas body, but after ironing out a number of iterations, he then decided to put the bottle on the top — a feature that would end up making its way to the retail version.

The commercial version of the Super Soaker wasn’t some accidental success, however; it was years in the making. Johnson was driven by faith in his invention to leave his job at the Air Force and NASA to start his own engineering company, Johnson Research and Development. Shortly after, the Atlanta-based company licensed its Super Soaker invention to Larami Corporation, the company that ultimately brought the toy to market in 1989. Over the years, it has generated almost $1 billion in sales.

Not long after the launch, Larami Corporation was purchased by Hasbro, one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world. Unfortunately, the relationship between Hasbro and Johnson didn’t play out smoothly; later on, both parties would get involved in a licensing battle that resulted in the Super Soaker inventor receiving a whopping $73 million in royalities.

“I accidentally shot a stream of water across a bathroom where I was doing the experiment and thought to myself, ‘This would make a great gun.'”

The commercial version of the Super Soaker wasn’t some accidental success, however; it was years in the making. Johnson was driven by faith in his invention to leave his job at the Air Force and NASA to start his own engineering company, Johnson Research and Development. Shortly after, the Atlanta-based company licensed its Super Soaker invention to Larami Corporation, the company that ultimately brought the toy to market in 1989.

The Super Soaker took the world by storm and became an instant hit. More than 25 years since it initially hit the consumer market, it’s estimated the Super Soaker has earned more than $1 billion in sales. Not long after the launch, Larami Corporation was purchased by Hasbro, which took the Super Soaker into a whole new world — after all, Hasbro was, and still is, one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world. Unfortunately, the relationship between Hasbro and Johnson didn’t play out smoothly; later on, both parties would get involved in a licensing battle that resulted in the Super Soaker inventor receiving a whopping $73 million in royalties.

Johnson also owns two companies that develop energy technology; Exellatron Solid State and Johnson Electro-Mechanical Converter System (JEMS). Excellatron developed thin film batteries while JEMS developed the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System (JTEC) which was listed as one of the top inventions of 2009 by Popular Mechanics. It also has the potential to make solar power competitive with coal for an efficient and renewable solar energy.

In 2008, Lonnie Johnson received the Breakthrough Award from Popular Mechanics for his work on JTEC. He is also working with the Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated in California to further fund and develop JTEC. He was inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2011.

Sources:
http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celebrity-business/lonnie-johnson-net-worth/
http://www.blackpast.org/aah/johnson-lonnie-1949#sthash.wUNCY1Uo.dpuf
http://www.engadget.com/2015/02/27/lonnie-johnson-the-rocket-scientist-and-super-soaker-inventor/

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