How Lonnie Johnson Turned A Burst Of Inspiration Into A Best-Selling Invention

February 9, 2021 / Parent Resources

This Black History Month, Osmo is celebrating Black mathematicians, scientists and inventors whose creative problem-solving paved the way for future innovators. We hope these stories inspire your kids to find their own brilliance and never give up on their next great idea.

From a young age, Lonnie Johnson enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked. He would often tinker with household items, and take the opportunity to create something new when he encountered a problem. Anything and everything was worthy of inquiry to Lonnie – once he even disassembled his sister’s doll to find the mechanism that made the eyes open and close! 

Lonnie’s interest in technology grew with him. As a teenager he loved building rockets and robots, so much so that kids in the neighborhood started calling him “the Professor.” Lonnie’s parents encouraged him to pursue his projects. He won the high school science fair with “The Linex,” a compressed-air robot made from junkyard scraps. Even when Lonnie nearly started a fire making fuel on the stovetop for one of his rockets, his parents’ support never wavered. They simply bought him a hot plate to use outside. 

Through years of tinkering, Lonnie became an expert problem-solver. He first used these skills as an aerospace engineer for the U.S. Air Force and NASA, before starting his own business. Lonnie’s curiosity, determination and problem-solving skills have enabled his success as an entrepreneur and inventor. Here’s how Lonnie’s problem-solving skills helped him invent the Super Soaker. 

Lonnie’s Approach: Curiosity, Creative Problem-Solving, and Hard Work 

The pressurized water gun concept came to Lonnie while he was developing an idea he had for a better heat pump. While he was working on the pump, it sprang a leak and shot a powerful, narrow burst of water across the bathroom. 

Having spent so much of his life in pursuit of scientific knowledge, Lonnie was well-equipped to see the opportunity in front of him. And as an inventor, he believed that he always had everything he needed to make what he wanted. Lonnie started by making a prototype from Plexiglas, PVC pipe, and other materials he already had in his home workshop.

The Super Soaker’s great innovation was its pressurized reservoir system. Whereas a piston squirt gun’s stream could only be as powerful as one squeeze of the trigger, the Super Soaker let users pump more and more air into the water reservoir to apply greater and greater pressure to the water inside, multiplying the force of the stream for when they finally pull the trigger. This meant that even a small child could generate enough energy to do some serious soaking!

Though Lonnie had designed an innovative product, he still had to overcome many hurdles to get his invention on store shelves. One of Lonnie’s manufacturers even went out of business while he was trying to bring the Super Soaker to market. Eventually, with hard work and determination, Lonnie was able to share the Super Soaker with the world. He now holds more than 80 patents. 

Osmo Helps Your Child Unleash Their Own Creative Ideas

When asked about the key to his success, Lonnie Johnson said, “Inventing really does come down to perseverance, doing the hard work of identifying the problems, solving the problems, and then moving onto the next step.” You can help your child develop the curiosity, creativity and resilience every inventor needs with Osmo. Our interactive games for kids promote these skills by presenting kids with challenges that they must overcome using the tools they already have at their disposal. Visit our site to explore more educational games for preschoolers, STEM learning games, and creative games to play that teach core subjects through hands-on play.