There was a time when summer vacation was a relatively dry occasion. Sure, there were sprinklers, pools and the unusually aggressive neighbour who might turn the hose on you, but these were mostly predictable bouts of wetness.
Then, one day, the Super Soaker came into our lives. All we had before were flimsy handheld water pistols or the agonizingly slow-fill water balloon, and then all of a sudden we have a literal water canon jammed up under our tiny arm.
There’s a very good reason the Super Soaker was such a bad ass toy. It was developed by Lonnie Johnson; an Air Force and NASA engineer. When you were trying to shoot out your best friends cornea’s from 50 feet away, you were holding NASA technology.
Johnson built the prototype in 1982 out of some PVC pipe, plexiglass and a 2 litre soda bottle.
Realizing costs were a bit too high to mass produce these himself, he shopped the idea around but had little success. It wasn’t until he attended the American International Toy Fair that he found some interest. The Vice President of a toy company called Larami liked what he saw.
Johnson had enough faith in the Super Soaker to quit his job at NASA. I’ll say that again – NASA, where he was presumably working on alien space ships and other things arguably as cool as the Super Soaker.
But Johnson didn’t create this to hit the toy jackpot and become super rich (which he did), he did it entirely to create funding for his research (which he did).
He worked together with Larami to create the very first commercial version of the gun and they were in stores by 1990 as the “Power Drencher”.
The toy enjoyed moderate success but they decided to rebrand the product in 1991 with a larger marketing campaign and multiple TV advertisements. They renamed it the Super Soaker and it resulted in over 2 million guns sold.
Numerous models were made, ranging from a small, concealable pistol, to a straight up AK-47 of the water world.
Hasbro eventually acquired the rights from Larami and is now produced as Nerf Super Soaker. The toy has made over $1 billion in sales. Oh, and Lonnie Johnson? He’s a multi, multi millionaire and is the founder of Johnson Research and Development Co., which was the sole reason for all of this.
So the next time you pump up a Super Soaker and catch an unsuspecting victim, make sure to yell out his name before you pull the trigger.