Posts Tagged ‘Super Soaker’

Every one of us enjoys playing with water, right?

Is there a “no”? I didn’t think so.

Kids especially are fond of water. They love to splash or sprinkle water on themselves, as well as on others. But elders like to splash water too! During one of the religious festivals called “Holi”, celebrated in northern parts of India, people of all ages throw colored water and colored powder on each other. Celebrated in the beginning of spring, the end of February or early March, the festival is believed to bridge social gaps and bring new relationships. Tradionally, the colored water (blue, red, green, violet, yellow and purple) is prepared by soaking various flowers in the water that would have medicinal effects. Use of giant syringes and squirt guns (Pichkari in Hindi) are used to sprinkle water. In olden days, Pichkaris were made from bamboo.

If it is “Holi” for India, it is Songkran for Thailand. Songkran is the New Year festival of Thai and is celebrated by splashing water and applying white chalk powder on others. In conventional celebration, the water captured after cleansing Buddha images was sprinkled on the elders and family and was meant to bring good fortune. Songkran is the biggest water fight to be enjoyed in April, the hottest time of the year in Thai, thus bringing down the severity of the weather.

Water splashing festivals are celebrated in many other Asian countries under different names. In other countries you will see kids enjoying the water gun based games mainly in water parks.

It must be a lot of fun splashing water on everyone! Ask any kid – they would know what a water gun is. But who invented this amazing water gun that has been an attractive toy for all the ages?  (If you are whispering the name, I can hear you!) It is Lonnie Johnson – a rocket scientist and a nuclear engineer who invented the pressurized water gun called the Super Soaker in 1989.

Lonnie was born in 1949 in Mobile, Alabama and is an African American. He was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, CA when the idea for the Super Soaker struck his mind. The Super Soaker made a revolution in the history of water warfare, beating its battery powered motorized predecessors, which were costly toys in the 1980s that also looked more like real guns. Lonnie’s model was highly dependent on the air pressure and the arm pumping for pressurizing the firing chamber that contained water. It was capable of blasting more water farther and faster than any other guns in the market.

Lonnie wanted to mass produce his water gun. As he had only limited resources, he sought licensing agreements with existing toy companies and had to move through several hurdles.  He then found Larami Corporation to contract with – the president of Larami uttered a suprised “wow” as Lonnie shot the gun across the meeting room. Larami manufactured Lonnie’s prototype and patented his invention as well. The gun was called “Power Drencher” and then renamed as “Super Soaker 50”. The Super Soaker was a top selling toy in America in the 1990s and generated over $200 million sales. In total, $40 million toys were sold. Later models of the Super Soaker have either a single chamber or separate chambers to contain water and pressured air; several other improvements and modifications were brought in for later versions.

At a young age Lonnie and his brothers, due to curiosity in science, used to try experiments at home with household items. Though one of his experiments exploded and burnt part of the kitchen at home, it is this curiosity that led him to invent the Super Soaker.

Lonnie owned about 80 patents with 20 more pending, and he is also an author of several publications in spacecraft systems. Lonnie founded Johnson Research and Development Co., as well as its spin-off companies Excellatron Solid State, Johnson Electro Mechanical Systems and Johnson Real Estate Investments, all operating in Atlanta, GA. He served on the board of directors of Georgia Alliance for Children, an organization that protects the rights of Georgia’s less fortunate children, and on the board of directors of Commonwealth National Bank. He is also a board member of the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation. In his hometown of Marietta, GA, Februrary 25, 1994 was declared “Lonnie G. Johnson’s Day” in his honor.

Got a Super Soaker with you? Save it for the upcoming “Holi” and “Songkran” celebrations!

Vijayalakshmi Kalyanaraman

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