Born in 1949, Lonnie G. Johnson is best described as an engineer first and an inventor second. He graduated from Tuskegee University and joined the US Air Force. With his degrees in mechanical and nuclear engineering, he was assigned to the Strategic Air Command division and was involved in the development of the stealth bomber. He was also a systems engineer for missions that explored the solar system, including the Cassini mission to Saturn and the Galileo mission to Jupiter.
Inspired by George Washington Carver, Johnson also wanted to become an inventor. He began this quest in 1968 when he represented his high school at the State Science Fair.
How Did Johnson Begin to Blaze a New Trail?
Johnson grew up in a time when equal rights were becoming an emphasis of contention in the US south. He was the only African-American student at the Alabama Science Fair his senior year and this was only 5 years after the governor of the state had tried to block black students from enrolling at the university where the science fair was being held.
Johnson took his initial invention, which he called the “Linex,” to be judged. It was a robot that was powered by compressed air and it won first prize, even though some officials at the university didn’t want an African-American student to receive recognition. Johnson received a prize of $250 and a plaque that commemorated his win.
What Did Johnson Invent Next?
After spending several years in the Air Force, Johnson once again pursued his dream of being an inventor. He’d always had an idea that a heat pump could be created using just water instead of Freon, so he worked on the idea during his spare time. In 1982, he finally completed his first prototype, filled it up with water, and then sprayed a high-powered stream of water into his bathtub. His children? They loved it.
After seven years of having no success marketing the product, Johnson decided to take a different tactic and began marketing it as a superior squirt gun. In 1989, the Larami Corporation took a chance on the device, purchased it from Johnson, and created the Super Soaker. Since being put into production, it has been one of the Top 20 bestselling toys every year.
What Did This Success Fuel?
With the money that came from the Super Soaker, Johnson founded his own company and has acquired over 100 patents over the years. His inventions, which include a ceramic battery and hair rollers that can be set without heat, have seen commercial success. One of his patents, a diaper that plays a nursery rhyme, wasn’t as successful.
Today Johnson is perfecting a thermoelectric energy convertor that has the goal of converting solar energy into electricity more efficiently than current methods. Johnson may have been dreamed of success thanks to those who came before him, but his efforts today are inspiring a new generation to achieve their dreams as he continues to achieve his own.
Strong proponent of individual liberty and free speech. My goal is to present information that expands our awareness of crucial issues and exposes the manufactured illusion of freedom that we are sold in America. Question everything because nothing is what it seems.