The National Business League

Founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington – August 23, 1900


Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson

Inventor of the Super Soaker line of toy water guns

Lonnie Johnson has a hard time pinning down the moment when he became an inventor. He was a tinkerer as far back as he can remember, the type of child who would follow his dad around to see how he fixed things and take things apart to see how they worked. By the time he was in high school, he decided to build a robot, inspired by sci-fi TV shows like Lost in Space. Using erector sets and other tools, he completed it during his senior year.

As an adult, Johnson continued to tinker, working on his own projects at home while working for NASA during the day. In 1982, when his heat-pump prototype shot a stream of water across the room, he realized the technology could create a super-powered water gun. He thought this could be the special invention he was looking for, one that would get him the steady income he needed to become a full-time inventor. However, it could take him eight years to make this a reality: the Super Soaker finally came out on the market in 1990. He credits his perseverance and embrace of the unknown for his success. “I realized what I didn’t know, and I set out to compensate for that and obtain the information I needed in order to succeed. So, you need to embrace the unknown,” he said.

He counts his high school robot winning the University of Alabama’s 1968 regional science fair in segregation times as one of his greatest personal victories. He also cites solving problems and making inventions work that his peers at NASA said couldn’t be done among his proudest achievements. As a toy maker, he was also instrumental in the success of the Nerf dart gun line. In 2022, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Black Inventors Hall of Fame and the Black Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame by the Black Excellence Alliance in 2021, and was the first African American inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame, in 2011.