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Bull's-Eye! Super Soaker Inventor Scores Huge Payday

The Exchange
Super Soaker Arctic Shot

It’s been nearly 25 years since former NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson first licensed the water gun toy that became the iconic Super Soaker. On Wednesday, the inventor soaked Hasbro (HAS) in arbitration, reportedly receiving $72.9 million worth of sales royalties from the toymaker as part of a dispute over underpaid royalties.

“In the arbitration we got everything we asked for,” Johnson’s attorney Leigh Baier told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The arbitrator ruled totally in Lonnie’s favor.”

According to the newspaper, the agreement stemmed from a 2001 inventors dispute in which Hasbro had agreed to pay Johnson royalties for the sales of his products. Johnson originally licensed the Super Soaker to Larami Corporation, which was later acquired by Hasbro, and the toy reportedly generated more than $200 million in retail sales in its first two years on the market. As of 2013, total sales of the line are estimated at nearly $1 billion.

Keeping busy

As for the Atlanta-based Johnson, the Super Soaker phenomenon was just a footnote in what has proven to be a very diverse career.

Although it was his plastic toy gun that made him wealthy, Johnson first trained as a nuclear engineer at Tuskegee University and worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab on both the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Mars Observer prior to his exploits in the toy business. He currently holds more than 80 patents and, in addition to the Super Soaker, is also credited with inventing technologies related to both rechargeable batteries and thermodynamic energy.

Interestingly, Johnson has long reinvested the profits from his Super Soaker sales back into his other companies, explaining to CNBC in 2010 that as an engineer: “It’s who I am, it’s what I do.”

And he hasn’t slowed down as a result of his success. One of his inventions, the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System, was named one of the top 10 inventions of 2009 by Popular Mechanics magazine for its ability to convert thermal energy to electricity without the use of steam generators, potentially opening up new doors in solar power plants and ocean-based thermal power generation.