Chris Barton’s picture book biography, Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge), encourages readers to experiment and to dream. As a child, Lonnie was always intrigued with building and inventing. His parents encouraged his creativity by allowing him to bring his parts and “stuff” into the house. Lonnie knew that he wanted to be an engineer, and he built his own robot, Linex. His challenge was to transmit commands to Linex. When he finally worked out his transmission issue, Lonnie’s team won first place in the 1968 science fair at the University of Alabama. This was remarkable because of Lonnie’s project, but also because five years earlier, Lonnie wouldn’t have been allowed to participate as an African-American.
After graduating from Tuskegee Institute, Lonnie went to work at NASA. His project was to develop a constant supply of power to the orbiter Galileo’s computer memory on the mission to Jupiter. Even though he was challenged to invent professionally, Lonnie continued to create during his free time at home. When he was experimenting with ideas for environmentally safe ways to cool refrigerators and air conditioners, he played around with water and air pressure. Lonnie’s experiment that blasted a stream of water gave him an idea for a water gun with which to play.
It took persistence in the face of many refusals for Lonnie to finally find a toy manufacturer who liked his idea. The Super Soaker was finally produced and sold, and it made Lonnie a great deal of money. Lonnie Johnson didn’t rest on his laurels. Instead, he has built his own lab and company that is working to generate electricity without polluting the planet.