We may be dating ourselves here, but we can remember the days before the Super Soaker. Those were dark times, when most water guns were flimsy, transparent pistols that dribbled as much as they sprayed. Fortunately, today’s children will not have to suffer as we did; they will never know a world without Super Soakers. For that, we can thank Lonnie Johnson.

Despite the massive success of his pump-powered water cannon, Johnson would not describe himself as a toymaker—he’s an engineer, through and through. His love of engineering started early; as a child, he built a lawnmower-go-kart hybrid and nearly burned down the house while trying to brew his own rocket fuel.

Growing up in the South during the 1960s and '70s, Johnson faced tremendous obstacles. Among other injustices, Johnson was barred from academic institutions and warned not to aim too high. Still, he kept his eyes on the stars and, by 1975, Johnson had a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. Over the next few decades, he would put his brilliant mind and perseverance to work for the Air Force Weapons Laboratory, NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter, and Strategic Air Command, where he helped design the first stealth bombers.

In 1982, Johnson was experimenting with different nozzle shapes and pressures on a heat pump prototype when it shot a powerful stream of water across the bathroom. The idea for the Super Soaker sprouted from that moment, and several years, pitches, and patents later, the toy finally entered the market.

Today, Johnson has his name on nearly 100 patents, including a moisture-sensing diaper alarm, a wall-mounted mailbox, a flashlight attachment for a cordless drill, and a whole lot of very advanced technology. His ideas have helped advance aeronautics and space exploration. He also has made summer a lot more fun—but you already knew that.

Header image via YouTube // Great Big Story.