To celebrate Black History Month, Engadget is running a series of profiles honoring African-American pioneers in the world of science and technology. Today we take a look at the life and work of Lonnie Johnson.
Lonnie Johnson is not quite a household name, but many of his famous creations, like the Super Soaker, are. To truly appreciate Johnson's achievements, we should start at the beginning. Ever since he was a child in Mobile, Alabama, he wanted to be a maker and a creator. In 1968, at Williamson High School, then an all-black school, Johnson designed a 4-foot tall, remote-controlled robot, which he worked on for over a year and built using scrap metal. He called it "Linex," and it won him the main prize at a science fair that year. Johnson recalls being the only minority student in the competition, which was hosted by the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa -- a place known for attempting to block black students from enrolling. "The only thing anybody from the university said to us during the entire competition was, 'Goodbye,' and, 'Y'all drive safe now,'" he told Biography.com in an interview. Eventually, Johnson earned the nickname "The Professor," a moniker that years later would seem ever so fitting.
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