The Super Soaker Was Invented by a Former NASA Engineer

By Adam Clark Estes on at

Long ago and far away in a place called the 1990s, a man with a dream and a uniquely excellent knowledge of fluid dynamics decided to quit his day job designing rocket ships and design the world's best ever water gun instead. For that, we thank you Lonnie Johnson.

In this weekend's issue, The New York Times Magazine features a brief history of the Super Soaker starring Johnson and his great idea. While it's easy to imagine the Super Soaker being cobbled together from the parts of lesser toys by the Laramie toy company's R&D lab in the dark basement of some Manhattan office building, the actual story of its beginnings are much more humble. Johnson, a former engineer on NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter, built the prototype himself and waltzed into the office to wow the executives, bright pink suitcase and all. As the NYT tells it:

It was a "classic situation" for an inventor, says Lonnie Johnson of the moment in 1989 when he waited nervously for a meeting with toy executives at Larami, a pink Samsonite suitcase on his lap. Inside the suitcase was a new kind of water gun. Instead of a pistol that piddled out a thin stream, this toy was engineered to spray water dozens of feet. "I had bought a milling machine and made all of the parts myself out of PVC pipe and Plexiglas," Johnson says. "Even the valves — I made those too."

From that point on hilarity ensues, and the world's youth was never the same. The magazine goes on to detail how Johnson's inspired a new generation of incredibly powerful water gun inventors. It's worth clicking through and reading all about it. Your ten-year-old self will thank you. [NYTM]