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Lonnie G. Johnson
Lonnie G. Johnson, a Black inventor, businessman, and mathematician, was born on this date in 1949.
He is from Mobile, AL, where at the age of 18, he was awarded first place in a national competition for his invention of "Linex," a remote-controlled robot made from junkyard scraps.
He studied at Tuskegee University on a mathematics scholarship and was elected to the Pi Tau Sigma National Engineering Honor Society. Johnson graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1972 and completed a Master of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering two years later.
After joining the Air Force as a captain, Johnson was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal once, and the Air Force Commendation Medal twice. Through the military, he became an Advanced Space Systems Requirements Officer at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command. After directing projects and earning a nomination for Astronaut Training, Johnson moved on to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
There he helped develop thermodynamically and controls systems for space projects, including award-winning work for the Galileo Jupiter probe and the Mars Observer project. His crowning achievement at JPL was the Johnson Tube, a CFC-free refrigeration system with a hydraulic heat pump, which later earned Johnson his seventh patent up until then. (#4,724,683; 1988).
In 1985, he founded his own company, Johnson Research, and Development. He first conceived his most famous invention in 1982, when a homemade nozzle at his bathroom sink shot a spray of water across the room. From this, he resolved to invent the world's first high-performance, pressurized water gun. Johnson with partner Bruce D'Andrade finally created a workable prototype of the now famous SuperSoaker® in 1989. They filed for a joint patent (granted 1991). Over 40 million SuperSoakers have generated over $200 million in sales; today, dozens of websites are devoted to them.
Overall, Johnson has earned over 40 patents and continues to invest in the areas of thermo- and fluid dynamics as well as toys. In addition to ongoing controls work for NASA, Johnson and his company are developing an improved home radon detector, a rechargeable battery, a heat pump that uses water instead of Freon, and other projects. Lonnie Johnson has won numerous honors for his success in inventing and entrepreneurship, and his constant encouragement of young people to invent.