Lonnie Johnson, also known as “the Professor” of Johnson Research and Development Co., created the Super Soaker water gun in 1989, grossing over $200 million dollars in sales. The Super Soaker has been in the top 20 on the list of the world’s top selling toys since its creation. In a recent lawsuit with the Hasbro company, Johnson was awarded $79.2 million in royalties. Johnson claimed that Hasbro had underpaid royalties for his line of Nerf toys for five years starting in 2007. The suit also included specific unpaid royalties for the Super Soaker in 1996. The toy company had begun to sell water guns that were very similar to Johnson’s design with the same technology.
Lonnie Johnson, PH.D, is a nuclear engineer and a graduate of Tuskegee University. The Mobile, Alabama native followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the U.S. Air Force, where he helped to develop the stealth bomber program. Johnson was on the team that designed the Cassini robot probe that flew 740 million miles to Saturn. The systems engineer was also on the engineering team for the Galileo mission to Jupiter.
Growing up in a predominately black school during the era of segregation, Johnson was not encouraged to reach greater heights than those typically known in his community. When Johnson entered the Alabama State Science Fair in high school, his impressive compressed-air robot won first prize, but there was no follow-up for his level of expertise and execution of “The Linex” robot.
According to biography.com, the sense of exploration in engineering started early. “Lonnie tore up his sister’s baby doll to see what made the eyes close,” his mother later recalled. Another time, he nearly burned the house down when he attempted to cook up rocket fuel in one of his mother’s saucepans and the concoction exploded.
Lonnie Johnson has patented over 100 inventions and has 20 additional patents pending. One of his most anticipated projects is the creation of the JTEC, the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter, which will be used to convert solar energy into electricity with twice the efficiency of current methods.