Black History

Engineer with An Impact

Synopsis

African-American engineer and inventor Lonnie G. Johnson was born in Alabama in 1949. He earned his master's degree in nuclear engineering from Tuskegee University, and went on to work for the U.S. Air Force and the NASA space program. After tinkering with the invention of a high-powered water gun, Johnson's Super Soaker became a top-selling item by the early 1990s. He has since been developing the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter (JTEC), an engine that converts heat directly into electricity.

Early Life

Lonnie George Johnson was born on October 6, 1949, in Mobile, Alabama. His father was a World War II veteran who worked as a civilian driver at nearby Air Force bases, while his mother worked in a laundry and as a nurse's aid. During the summers, both of Johnson's parents also picked cotton on his grandfather's farm. Out of both interest and economic necessity, Johnson's father was a skilled handyman who taught his children to build their own toys. When Johnson was still a small boy, he and his dad built a pressurized chinaberry shooter out of bamboo shoots. At the age of 13, Johnson attached a lawnmower engine to a go-kart he built from junkyard scraps and raced it along the highway until the police pulled him over.

Person Life

Along with his groundbreaking scientific work and inventions, Johnson is board chairman of the Georgia Alliance for Children and a member of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, an organization that mentors high school and college students. In 2011, he was inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. In 2013, Johnson received a $73 million settlement from Hasbro Inc., which had acquired Larami Corp a decade earlier. The inventor had been seeking additional royalty payments from 2007 through 2012. Johnson and his wife, Linda Moore, have four children. They live in the Ansley Park neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia.