The Super Soaker Story

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By the time you see him aiming directly at you, it’s already too late. You start backing away and break into a run. It doesn’t help. You’re completely soaked. That’s because he was using the best, fastest, and furthest-shooting water gun on the market.

“Just you wait,” you call to your brother. And you slosh off to get your own Super Soaker. Ah! The fun of a water fight!

Little Boy, Big Dreams

When Lonnie Johnson was just a young kid, he had lots of ideas for all kinds of inventions and creations. People told him to forget about being an Important Inventor and just plan on being a technician of some sort, but he didn’t let their negativity discourage him. He used his afternoons and evenings to tinker with the things around him. There was a lot of trial and error involved in that — and some casualties, too, like when he “reverse engineered” (um, destroyed) his sister’s doll while trying to figure out what made its eyes open and close. (Do you think she ever forgave him?)

By the time Lonnie was 13, he’d built a go-kart. It was made out of a lawnmower and some scrap metal — and it worked. His attempts to produce rocket fuel were less successful. Home kitchens just aren’t equipped for that! Thankfully, he didn’t burn down the family home with the fire that resulted.

He always said he felt a connection to Thomas Edison, who invented hundreds of things (including the incandescent light bulb). Edison was also often discouraged by others. “I related to Thomas Edison in a big way, because I was always doing kooky stuff, getting into trouble, and not having people understand what I was doing or why I was doing it,” Johnson says. Turns out he was something of an Edison himself.

In high school, he built his own robot, which he named Linex. Not only did it work, it won him first prize in the school’s science fair and eventually helped him snag first prize in the Alabama regional science fair. He ended up earning a full scholarship to a university where he studied nuclear engineering. Not bad for the little dreamer from Alabama, right?

An Accidental Invention

The little dreamer from Alabama ended up landing a job at NASA (the space agency). He was working in the Jet Propulsion Lab there, creating things for the Galileo spacecraft. But even though he was busy in some of the world’s fanciest labs, he still loved messing around with potential inventions at home.

One thing he really wanted to do was create an environmentally friendly water pump to replace the pumps in certain devices that worked with dangerous chemicals. He wanted to test out his prototype — that is, the model he’d made. So he headed to… the bathroom. Where else can you safely make a big watery mess?!

Pointing his pump toward the bathtub, he pulled the lever — and a powerful torrent of water blasted out. Whoa, he thought. That would make a really successful water gun!

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 760)

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