- NAME: Lonnie G. Johnson
- OCCUPATION: Engineer, Inventor
- BIRTH DATE: October 06, 1949 (Age: 64)
- EDUCATION: Williamson High School, Tuskegee University, W.H. Council Elementary School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Mobile, Alabama
- Full Name: Lonnie George Johnson
- AKA: Lonnie G. Johnson
- AKA: Lonnie Johnson
- Nickname: "The Professor"
- ZODIAC SIGN: Libra
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Lonnie G. Johnson is an engineer and inventor who worked on the Cassini mission to Jupiter and invented the Super Soaker.
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African-American engineer and inventor Lonnie G. Johnson was born in Alabama in 1949. After graduating from Tuskegee University with a master's degree, Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command, where he helped develop the stealth bomber program. His other assignments included working as a systems engineer for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn. Johnson also created the Super Soaker squirt gun,
which became one of the most popular toys in the world.
Lonnie George Johnson was born on October 6, 1949, in Mobile, Alabama. His father was a World War II veteran who worked as a civilian driver at nearby Air Force bases, while his mother worked in a laundry and as a nurse's aid. During the summers, both of Johnson's parents also picked cotton on his grandfather's farm. Out of both interest and economic necessity, Johnson's father was a skilled handyman who taught his children to build their own toys. When Johnson was still a small boy, he and his dad built a pressurized Chinaberry shooter out of bamboo shoots. At the age of 13, Johnson attached a lawnmower engine to a go-cart he built from junkyard scraps and raced it along the highway until the police pulled him over.
Johnson dreamed of becoming a famous inventor and, during his teenage years, began to grow more curious about the way things worked and more ambitious in his experimentation—sometimes to the detriment of his family. "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.
Growing up in Mobile in the days of legal segregation and pervasive racism, Johnson attended Williamson High School, an all-black facility, where, despite his precocious intelligence and creativity, he was told not to aspire beyond a career as a technician. Nevertheless, inspired by the story of famed African-American inventor George Washington Carver, Johnson persevered in his dream of becoming an inventor.
Nicknamed "The Professor" by his high school buddies, as a senior, Johnson represented his school at the 1968 Alabama State Science Fair. The fair took place at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, where, just five years earlier, in 1963, Governor George Wallace had tried to prevent two black students from enrolling in the school by standing in the doorway of the auditorium. Johnson was the only black student in the competition. His entry was a compressed-air-powered robot, called "the Linex," that he had painstakingly built from junkyard scraps over the course of a year. Much to the chagrin of the university officials, Johnson won first prize at the State Science Fair, as well as a reward of $250 and a handsome plaque. "The only thing anybody from the university said to us during the entire competition," Johnson later recalled, "was 'Goodbye' and 'Y'all drive safe, now.'"
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