That moment of dread in a summer-time water fight – the kid with the Super Soaker turns up. You need them on your side or you’re going to get a severe drenching…
But did you know that an engineer invented this powerful pump-action water gun - one of the top 20 best-selling toys worldwide - by accident?
In 1982 American engineer Lonnie G. Johnson made a discovery that would change water fights forever and make him a very wealthy man – but it would take EIGHT years of hard work to get there.
Lonnie Johnson earned his living as a NASA space engineer, working on complex missions to Jupiter and Saturn. But his chums at school had nicknamed him “The Professor” and he dreamed of being an independent inventor who could work on his own ideas. In his spare time Lonnie was working on a cooling pump for refrigerators and air conditioners that used water as an environmentally-friendly alternative to the chemical Freon.
While tinkering with the pump he ended up shooting high-powered streams of water across his bathroom. “This would make a great water gun”, he thought. Lonnie’s six year old daughter loved the idea and so he decided to shelve the serious inventions for the time being to work on the powerful prototype water pistol.
Lonnie’s plan was to make money from developing the toy which he could use to become a full-time inventor working on more challenging ideas.
Johnson built a prototype using a large plastic drinks bottle, some piping and transparent plastic tubes to make an air pressure chamber and a water reservoir. Similar to today’s Super Soaker, you pumped air into the pressure chamber and then pressed the release valve, which pushed out the compressed air, forcing the water down the barrel. He looked into manufacturing the pistol himself but didn’t have the thousands of pounds needed to start up a production line so he decided to pitch his pistol to toy companies.
After seven years of Apprentice-style pitches and shooting paper cups off big business boardroom tables, finally a new company called Larami Corporation decided to take on this novice businessman. They bought the idea and released the “Power Drencher” in 1990.
The Power Drencher didn’t do very well until advertising geniuses stepped in and re-branded it the “Super Soaker”, launching it with this advert:
The advert created a deluge in sales and 2 million guns were sold in 1991. Super Soaker was bought by Hasbro who have made over £500 million pounds from sales of the toy.
Engineer Lonnie has definitely achieved his dream of being an independent inventor. With an estimated wealth of £200 million he’s working on other inventions again, including the “Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter”, a super-efficient prototype method of converting solar energy into electricity.
He’s got more than 100 patents to his name and thanks to The Professor and his most famous patent, water fights will never be the same again.
Top image credit: John the scone | Flickr: Creative Commons