Dr. Lonnie Johnson is a literal rocket scientist who also happens to be the mastermind behind the legendary Super Soaker water gun. He’s also racked up over 250 patents and landed a spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame. Inventor, aerospace engineer, and entrepreneur, Dr. Johnson joins this week’s episode of Before IT Happened to talk about growing up during the civil rights movement, helping build stealth bombers and rockets for NASA, and making the the idea for the Super Soaker a reality.
Before any world-changing innovation, there was a moment, an event, a realization that sparked the idea before it happened. This is a podcast about that moment — about that idea. Before IT Happened takes you on a journey with the innovators who imagined — and are still imagining — our future. Join host Donna Loughlin as her guests tell their stories of how they brought their visions to life.
JUMP STRAIGHT INTO:
(03:10) - Growing up in Alabama during the civil rights movement - “I was obviously very in tune to what was going on in the environment because during that time segregation was legal and discrimination was legal, and so there were certain things that I knew I couldn't do.”
(08:17) - Developing a passion for mechanical and nuclear engineering - “The Junior Engineer Technical Society sponsored a competition at the University of Alabama. Linox won 1st place in 1968 and we were the only black kids represented. That was a huge, huge moral victory for me personally.”
(16:29) - Working on the Stealth Bomber and NASA's Galileo mission - “It was just fascinating as hell. Going to the cockpit, it reminded me of being on the USS Enterprise Star Trek.”
(22:36) - The error that changed everything - “I was working on a heat pump that would use water instead of freon. So I made some nozzles and I had these small nozzles hooked up to the bathroom sink, and I shot this stream of water across the bathroom, and I thought, ‘Geez, a high-performance water gun would be a lot of fun.’”
(26:16) - Becoming the ‘King of Toy Guns’ - “Nerf dart guns were already on the market, but I started designing guns that were much better than what Hasbro had.”
(32:42) - Inspiring the next generation of inventors - “Get involved in technology and engineering and enjoy it before it becomes something that you're afraid of.”
Learn more about Dr. Lonnie Johnson and follow him on Twitter
Watch CBS Sunday Morning’s Mo Rocca interview Dr. Lonnie Johnson
Watch Dr. Lonnie Johnson’s TEDx Talk: Revolutionary designs for energy alternatives
Read Popular Mechanics: Super Soaker Inventor Aims to Cut Solar Costs in Half
Learn more about the all-solid-state batteries Dr. Johnson is developing at Johnson Energy Storage
Learn more about the Thermo-Electrochemical Converter that Dr. Johnson is developing at JTEC Energy
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Before IT Happened is produced by Donna Loughlin and StudioPod Media with additional editing and sound design by nodalab. All episodes are written and developed by Susanna Camp. The Show Coordinator is Nicole Genova and the Executive Producer is Katie Sunku Wood.