- NAME: Lonnie G. Johnson
- OCCUPATION: Engineer, Inventor
- BIRTH DATE: October 06, 1949 (Age: 63)
- 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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A year later, in 1969, Johnson graduated from Williamson High School as a member of its last segregated class. He attended Tuskegee University—where his idol George Washington Carver had once taught—on a scholarship, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1973. Two years later, he received a master's degree in nuclear engineering from Tuskegee.
After receiving his master's, Lonnie G. Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force and gradually established himself as an important member of the government scientific establishment. He was assigned to the Strategic Air Command, where he helped develop the stealth bomber program. His other assignments included analyzing plutonium fuel spheres at the Savannah River National Laboratory, and working as a systems engineer for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn.
Even while working for the Air Force, Johnson continued to pursue his own inventions in his spare time. One of his longtime pet projects was an environmentally friendly heat pump that used water instead of Freon. Johnson finally completed a prototype one night in 1982 and decided to test it in his bathroom. He aimed the nozzle into his bathtub, pulled the lever and blasted a powerful stream of water straight into the tub. Johnson's instantaneous and instinctive reaction, since shared by millions of kids around the world, was pure delight.
In 1989, after another seven years of tinkering and tireless sales-pitching, during which he left the Air Force to go into business for himself, Johnson finally sold his device, renamed the "Super Soaker," to the Larami Corporation, which put it into mass production. The Super Soaker, vastly superior to previous generations of squirt guns, quickly became one of the most popular toys in the world, and has held its ranking among the world's top 20 best-selling toys every year since its creation.
Propelled by the success of the Super Soaker, Lonnie Johnson founded his own company, Johnson Research & Development, and went on to acquire more than 100 patents. Some of his inventions, including a ceramic battery and hair rollers that set without heat, have achieved commercial success. Others, including a diaper that plays a nursery rhyme when soiled, failed to catch on.
In recent years, however, Johnson developed one of his most ambitious and important inventions to date: the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter, an advanced heat engine that can reportedly convert solar energy into electricity with twice the efficiency of current methods, and without any moving parts. While it remains only a prototype, the JTEC has the potential to make solar power competitive with coal, at long last fulfilling the dream of efficient, renewable solar energy.
Since leaving the Air Force, Lonnie Johnson has been one of a rare breed of scientists: the independent inventor working outside the scientific establishment. Had he retired upon patenting the Super Soaker, Johnson would still go down as one of the most successful inventors and entrepreneurs of his generation.
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They are among history's most revered black inventors, known for their relentless inquisition, passionate research, impeccable design and, most importantly, their desire to push the envelope. Some of the world's greatest technological and social advancements, including the modern-day gas mask, light bulb and traffic light, owe their origins to black inventors. Did you know that George Washington Carver developed more than 100 products using peanuts? Or that Madam C.J. Walker was the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire? Learn more about these inventors, as well as Lonnie G. Johnson, Garrett Morgan, Patricia Bath, Percy Julian and more, at Biography.com.
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