NASA Scientist Dr. Lonnie Johnson Accidentally Invented The Super Soaker

by : Lucy Connolly on : 17 Aug 2020 17:46

NASA Scientist Accidentally Invented The Super SoakerGreat Big Story/YouTube

NASA scientists are known for their brilliant minds, discovering new technologies and making scientific breakthroughs ever since the space agency was established more than 60 years ago.

Dr. Lonnie Johnson is no different, with the scientist and engineer being responsible for over 100 patents during his time working at NASA, including a thermoelectric energy converter and a thin film lithium battery.

But the invention of his that’s perhaps the most influential, at least in terms of its popularity? That would be the Super Soaker, a large pump-action water gun that he created by accident while working on something completely different.

super soakerHasbro

It all started in the early 1980s, when Johnson was working on a ‘new idea’ for a heat pump that would use water as a working fluid instead of Freon. At the time, there was concern about how the continuous use of Freon would impact the environment.

While experimenting with various nozzles, Johnson shot a stream of water across the bathroom and thought, according to CNN: ‘Geez, maybe I should put this hard science stuff aside and work on something fun like a water gun. Maybe I could get enough money to support my habit.’

Around that time, Johnson left NASA to go back to active duty with the Air Force, which he first joined after graduating university, but decided to keep playing around with water gun prototypes in his spare time.

dr lonnie johnson super soakerJohnson Research & Development Co. Inc

‘That was when I was working on the water gun in my basement after work in the evenings,’ Johnson recalled. ‘Then, I left there and went out to Edwards Air Force Base, worked on the Stealth Bomber program back when it was highly classified, and nobody knew that it existed.’

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, and it took Johnson a long time to get his prototype on the market. ‘From the time I got the idea for the Super Soaker, it took about seven years before I found a path to get it commercialised,’ he said.

Johnson continued:


Then, it was about 10 years from the time I got the idea to the time it became the No. 1 selling toy in the world. It’s a story of perseverance.

dr lonnie johnson invented super soakerWikimedia

And boy did that perseverance pay off; since being introduced in 1990, the Super Soaker has racked up retail sales of more than $1 billion. And in 2013, after filing a lawsuit against Hasbro for unpaid royalties, Johnson was awarded nearly $73 million in arbitration.

Now, using the revenue from his past success, Johnson is developing two devices he believes can revolutionise electrical power generation and storage.


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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Life, NASA, Now, Science, Toys


  1. CNN

    How a NASA scientist accidentally invented the Super Soaker