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Lonnie Johnson: The father of the Super Soaker (bbc.co.uk)
257 points by mebassett on Aug 16, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

Fascinating interview! I had just learned about Lonnie Johnson yesterday!

I was reading up on the Lingo programming language[1] and found out that it was invented by a Jamaican computer scientist named John H. Thompson [2], which led me to learn about Lonnie Johnson.

> "After I had settled into my new job and home, I set to work making the parts of the plastic water gun on a little lathe and milling machine in the basement."

It would be super interesting to find out which lathe and milling machines he had used. It sounds like they might have been Sherline machines. [4] I wonder how easy it would be today to 3D print a SuperSoaker prototype given the difficulties due to overhangs in the geometry of SuperSoaker parts (e.g. tube, barrel). Something tells me that manually fabricating it on a small lathe/mill like Lonnie Johnson did would be much faster for prototyping than 3D printing, even today ... but I could be wrong.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingo_(programming_language) [2] http://www.black-inventor.com/John-Thompson.asp [3] http://www.black-inventor.com/Lonnie-G-Johnson.asp [4] http://sherline.com/

Not to diss the Super Soaker, it is an awesome invention, but that wasn't the only big thing that Lonnie Johnson worked on. The man was part of NASA's Galileo engineering team and he also worked on the B-2 Stealth Bomber among other things.


>Something tells me that manually fabricating it on a small lathe/mill like Lonnie Johnson did would be much faster for prototyping than 3D printing, even today ... but I could be wrong.

I think you are correct, and this is true for many designs. Widepsread love for 3D printing doesn't change that. When all you have is a hammer etc.

Come to think of it, is there a 3D-printing process that involves a rotating lathe for some parts, when you know you need part of the object to be a tube?

Wouldn't that be a CNC lathe?

Can 3d printed parts handle higher pressures very well?

FDM parts are actually porous and won't hold pressure at all.

In my limited experience SLA can be made to work.

As a black man there is no way I can give my kid any toy that looks even remotely like a gun.

That a black guy invented this thing makes this even more ironic.

That's being a bit ridiculous . I get it that the news/cable stations plaster every cop shooting of a "black" person all over TV anytime it happens but I think it's not as bad as you're acting. We're at multi-decade lows of crime. I think everyone is hyper-sensitive with the news cycle.

I would tell my son if there was a realistic looking gun not to play around with it outside, but that's regardless of his color. I say that as a "black" man

I really wish people would stop telling black people how to feel about the way that police react to black people.

A powerful comment: thank you for sharing this. I hope your own kids will not need to feel this way when they become parents.

As a black father as well I've had this very same discussion, repeatedly.

Supersoakers look nothing like real guns and what's 'even more' ironic about a black man inventing it?

What's ironic about it at all?

The irony is that the inventor of a super popular toy would have to think twice about letting his own children play with it. If you are not aware of the difference between a white child and a black child playing with a toy gun, here is an article to get you started:


Doesn't even need to be a toy gun. Any toy will do.


If only Super Soaker were the only gun people carried.

I always loved the supersoaker growing up. Glad to see that he didn't get screwed out of his royalties like a lot of inventors/creators did.

What happened to real Super Soaker guns, like the 50, the 100, or even the 300? When I search for "super soaker" on Amazon I see only a few Nerf branded guns that look like cheap knockoffs.

Hasbro bought Larami then rebranded them as Nerf guns.

Wait they threw away the Super Soaker branding on purpose? This is madness.

They still use the branding but as "Nerf Super Soaker". Also, the guns look totally different than what Larami toys looked like.


I don't know if it's just my shoddy memory, or maybe it's hard to tell from the pictures, but those look a lot "cheaper" than the classic Super Soakers I remember.

You're not crazy


This is incredible... I can't find a single decent air pressure water gun on Amazon.

Shame. Oh man, the 2000 looks like the one I used to play with.

"I had no idea what to say to him. In the end, I said, 'Well… you know… I think we should have more of that.'"

I love it.

I had no idea that the inventor of the Super Soaker designed real weapons systems as well.

In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense.

Johnson gave a talk at my department about the J-TEC. He really was quite polished and answered some tough questions we had.

I remember a 60 minutes or 20/20 type story about him a while back. He was running the R&D lab. I would like to know more about the battery he developed- has that been commercialized?

A couple prior HN discussions on him from when he's previously been in the news:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6702535 (Super Soaker creator awarded $72.9M from Hasbro)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1785189 (Super-Soaker inventor may have solar-powered fuel cell breakthrough)

Awesome article. What a legend!

  > I went on to design the N-Strike range of Nerf dart guns...
Maybe having a guy like this design them is why they're so awesome. Those things are accurate at a surprisingly long range, in a package the size of your palm. I was quite impressed with the one I used.

as a kid my favorite Super Soaker was the one that had a backpack as the reservoir. It was threaded just like a garden hose, so I would hook the gun up to the hose instead.

This guy is my new hero.

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