Related Article: Pre-Super Soaker History
Written in part by LGJ.
How Ideas are Born
The year of 1989 began the water weaponry revolution. The origin of the Super Soaker® actually dates back to 1982 when Dr. Lonnie Johnson, a nuclear engineer, first had the idea of making a high performance toy water gun. At the time, he was employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California as a spacecraft systems engineer on the Galileo mission to Jupiter. As a part time inventor, it took eight (8) years before the gun was finally introduced to consumers. In 1991, the Power Drencher (eventually renamed as the Super Soaker®) was unleashed onto the water blaster market, still in its infancy. In the interim, water gun companies such as Entertech™ and Larami ruled the water fight scene with their advances in battery powered motorized water guns. However, the motorized blasters did not offer much soaking power and the batteries required to keep these guns working proved to be costly.
Image used with permission. Not for redistribution.
The idea behind the Power Drencher was actually derived from some work Lonnie was doing on a heat pump that used water as opposed to freon. He hooked up the model of the pump to his bathroom sink at his home.
"I turned around and I was shooting this thing across the bathroom into the tub and the stream of water was so powerful that the curtains were swirling in the breeze it sent out," he said. "I thought, 'This would make a great water gun.'" (Quote from a Weekend Edition interview between Lonnie Johnson and Liane. Click here for more information.)
Unlike its motorized predecessors, Johnson developed a gun that relied on air pressure and arm pumping for pressurizing the firing chamber. The end result was a water blaster capable of delivering more water farther and faster than any other water gun on the market. The brand name, Super Soaker®, was introduced nation-wide in 1991 through a series of TV-advertisements.
Due to his own limited resources at the time, the cost for him to manufacture the blaster was rather steep. It was then that Lonnie decided to seek a licensing arrangement with an existing toy company. The first company to express interest in licensing the gun was Daisy™, a company that is well known for its compressed air powered “BB” guns and pellet guns. During the period from 1985 to 1987, Johnson worked with Daisy to get the gun into production, however, Daisy experienced several company reorganizations during this time frame and Johnson found himself repeatedly having to restart the development effort from the beginning with a new Manager of New Products. Although Daisy maintained strong interest in the gun, execution of the product was lacking and a licensing contract was never consummated.
Lonnie Johnson pictured with an array of his funfilled accomplishments.
Image used with permission from Johnson R&D. Image not for redistribution.
In 1987, Johnson contacted Entertech and arranged a meeting in their California office. During that meeting Johnson presented two products, a water propelled toy airplane and a vibrating machine gun. During the meeting, Johnson inadvertently mentioned in passing that he had a water gun that would out perform their battery-powered guns. The president of Entertech indicated that he liked both the airplane and the machine gun and would like to enter into a contract, but added that he would only enter a deal after he had a chance to see the water gun. Johnson proceeded to construct a new prototype and met with Entertech two (2) weeks later. The Entertech staff was ecstatic over the water gun and could not believe how much better it performed over the battery-powered guns. A licensing agreement was consummated and Entertech decided to market the toy airplane, Jammin Jet™, as the initial product under the license.
With growing negative publicity associated with toy guns that looked like real guns (See: Larami Uzi review), both Entertech and Larami were facing tough times with their battery-powered water gun lines. Entertech was having severe financial problems and, in 1989, went out of business. Entertech never manufactured Johnson’s water gun. With the bankruptcy of Entertech in 1989, Johnson was without a manufacturer again and began to make more improvements to his gun.
During the development process, Johnson designed and engineered several prototype improvements to make the gun more manufacturable. It was during this time that he decided to incorporate a blow-molded bottle on the gun as a pressure vessel. The standard process in the toy industry is to use injection molding toy components in two (2) halves and then glue them together. This approach was too unreliable for use in constructing pressure vessels. Johnson’s use of a blow-molded bottle as a pressure vessel for the gun was the single most important innovation that made low cost, mass production of the gun possible.
In March of 1989, Lonnie met with Myung Song, Larami’s President, at their office in Philadelphia. Lonnie took his new and improved water gun and shot it across the room, to which Larami’s president exclaimed, “WOW”. A contract was quickly executed and Larami assigned the project to Bruce D’Andrade to develop tooling for large-scale manufacturing. D’Andrade configured the gun components for manufacturing using injection molded parts and added a “pinch trigger valve” in place of the original valve used by Johnson. He also added ornamental details to the design. The “pinch trigger valve” was used for less than three (3) years, whereafter Larami subsequently returned to the use of valves that are more like the gun that was originally designed by Johnson. When the gun was marketed by Larami in 1990, Johnson’s top mounted, blow molded bottle became an icon that made this revolutionary water gun identifiable as the Super Soaker®. (See photograph below showing Johnson’s original prototype and the Power Drencher Super Soaker® 50) The use of bottles for water containment has subsequently become a hallmark in the toy industry, with other manufacturers copying this approach for all types of water guns.
Image used with permission from Johnson R&D. Image not for redistribution.
Johnson asked Larami to assume responsibility for filing patents to protect improvements to the water gun. D’Andrade took the initiative of filing patent #5,074,437, known as a Pinch Trigger Pump Water Gun. Of the eighteen (18) claims in the patent, twelve (12) of the claims, including the independent claim, are directed toward features invented by Johnson and six (6) claims are directed toward the pinch trigger mechanism incorporated by D’Andrade.
Both Bruce D'Andrade's and Lonnie Johnson's names appear on the patent. (Both Lonnie Johnson and Bruce D'Andrade are acknowledged on the box for the Collector's Edition Super Soaker® 50). This recognition of D’Andrade is well deserved as he played an indispensable role in carrying the Super Soaker® forward into mass production.
A similar situation exists with patent number 5,150,819, marketed as the Super Soaker® 100. With the overwhelming response to the Super Soaker® 50, Larami needed an encore and after several false starts, Larami turned to Johnson for help. In response, Johnson developed the original working model of the Super Soaker® 100. In 1991, the Super Soaker® 100 was released, offering the first of the Super Soakers® to have a separate pressurized firing chamber. This allowed the user to refill the primary reservoir at any time since the primary reservoir did not need to be pressurized for the blaster to shoot, because the blaster required fewer pumps in order to build up enough pressure to fire.
Super Soakers Through the Years
While Super Soaker made its debut in 1991, improvements to the design and other aspects of water blaster technology did not stop then. Since its first release, numerous new developments technologies have been added to the Super Soaker brand name.
In 1992, Larami Ltd. marketed several varieties of water guns based on the pressurized reservoir and separate pressurized firing chamber models.
In 1993, one of the interesting variants was known as the Super Soaker MDS (Multi-Directional Soaker), which featured a nozzle that could be pointed straight, directly left, directly right, and all angles in between. This Super Soaker® improvement was originally brought to Larami by an independent inventor named Jeep Kuhn. Again, D’Andrade played the key roll of carrying this design into large-scale manufacturing.
Johnson and D’Andrade worked together in continuing the Super Soaker® series. Whereas D’Andrade was committed essentially full time to Larami, Johnson had a wider range of inventive interest. He periodically planted seeds of invention for D’Andrade such as the pulsating mechanism that lead to Bruce’s development of the XP (Xtra Power) valve.
In 1994, the first XP-rated Super Soakers® were released. XP used the same technology as the original series, but featured larger nozzles in order to deliver more water at a quicker rate. The XP-generation went through various design mutations culminating in the first two (2) double-barreled (XXP 175 and XXP 275) and the first triple-barreled (XP 85) Super Soakers®. Johnson’s more complex, original pulsating valve was eventually marketed in the Super Soaker® XP 90 which shoots water bullets. A high performance version of this design was reintroduced in spring 2003, now known as the EES Turbine.
As the blasters continued to get larger and carry more water, there was no significant increase in output due to the limitations of the pressurized water system and safety concerns. However, in 1996, the CPS 2000 (Constant Pressure System) was unleashed, once again changing the face of the water war field.
Based on the Super Soaker® 100 design for pumping water from a reservoir to the pressurized firing chamber, the CPS 2000 employed a revolutionary firing chamber system which relied on the elastic properties of a rubber-like substance to pressurize the water (U.S. Patent under Bruce D'Andrade, Patent # 6,193,107). The CPS technology allowed even more water to be unleashed at a faster rate than the XP-series could. Unlike air pressure based blasters that tended to trickle as their pressure dropped during firing, CPS based blasters suffered virtually no change in pressure due to the nature of the elastic chamber used. As such, virtually all of the water could be dispensed at top pressure and travel the complete firing range.
However, the CPS system was not without its faults. Rumor has it that the CPS 2000 was removed from the market simply due to its sheer power. Anyone who has experienced a direct blast from a CPS 2000 can tell you that the stream packs more punch than most garden hoses. All future models based on the CPS systems appear to have been toned down in order to meet some forms of safety criteria. Also, due to the nature of the firing chamber, several people have reported firing chamber ruptures during use, turning a power blaster into a dribbling mess. After prolonged use, it appears that the rubber in the firing chamber can lose its elasticity and break. Problems aside, the CPS based blasters remain top of the power and range categories.
However, firing chamber technology is not the only facet of the Super Soaker® which has evolved over the years. Reservoir and filling technology has also undergone many variations. The original Super Soakers® used screw-on bottles with tubing which sat in the bottle to allow water to be drawn from the reservoir. However, this reservoir design had three (3) major short-comings: the O-Rings where the bottle met the blaster tended to wear down quickly, especially if the reservoir needed to be pressurized for the blaster to shoot; the reservoir did not make full use of its contents, as there was always some water remaining due to the design of the tubing; and the reservoir took a while to remove, fill, and then reattach.
From the original designs, Larami experimented for a while with half twist and quarter-twist on reservoirs as seen on blasters such as the XP75, XP105 and XP150. The angle of the bottle opening was altered such that water drained via gravity directly into the pump intake instead of needing to be drawn in by a hose. However, these reservoirs had problems mainly due to the tab construction. The tabs that held the reservoir in place tended to wear quickly after multiple attachments and removals. This proved rather frightening for users of worn down XP75s that use the pressurized reservoir method for firing. Worn out tabs in the XP75 can result in a sudden launch of the reservoir upwards from the blaster, showering the user and launching the reservoir several feet into the air. With some luck, no one will be hit by the reservoir when this occurs. The half and quarter twist reservoirs still took some time to refill as well.
The user-friendly reservoir improvement was first seen with blasters like the XP250 and XXP275. These blasters had a simple screw-on cap to seal closed an otherwise fully weapon mounted reservoir. This meant that only the cap needed to be removed to fill the reservoir instead of having to remove the reservoir. However, this also made it impossible for small sinks to be used to fill the reservoir since the entire blaster would need to be positioned properly beneath the water source. Thankfully, most water wars occur where hoses or larger taps are available, making this not such a major issue. The capped-reservoir has become the most prevalent reservoir system currently used. However, unlike the original designs, the caps now include a tether-anchor system to prevent the cap from wandering far from the blaster.
In 1999, not to be outdone by a rival company manufacturing blasters known as SpeedLoaders™, Larami Ltd. introduced its own hose-based refill system and termed it Super Charger ™. With the aid of the Q.F.D. (Quick-Fill Device), blasters capable of Super Charging could be refilled simply by inserting the SuperCharger™ nozzle into an active Q.F.D. The Q.F.D. relies on the water pressure from the hose and it is attached to force water into the Super Charge based blaster. Along with the SuperCharger™ technology, Larami Ltd. introduced its first pumpless blaster known as the SC Power Pak. The Power Pak relied on an active Q.F.D. to be refilled and was basically three CPS based reservoirs mounted on the innards of a plastic backpack with a nozzle-blaster mounted at the end of the attached hose. The blaster part had four nozzle settings and the Pak itself held a good amount of water. Best of all, no pumping was required. Unfortunately, without an active Q.F.D., the SC Power Pak was basically useless.
In 2000, Larami Ltd. introduced the smaller brother of the SC Power Pak known as the SC Big Trouble. The SC Big Trouble also has four (4) nozzle settings, but its capacity was only about half that of the SC Power Pak. With the exception of the pumpless SC Power Pak and SC Big Trouble, all other SC enabled blasters allowed the user to choose between filling at an available Q.F.D. or by filling from a tap or hose. This sort of flexibility makes the SC based blasters quite useful on the field. However, the SC based blasters still appear to take second when it comes to sheer-soaking power when compared to the CPS series.
In 2002, Larami Ltd. introduced the Max-D series of water blasters. While air-pressure based, these blasters feature a modified trigger and pressure chamber system based on a low-pressure head loss approach suggested by Johnson to allow these water blasters to fire farther than their predecessors. However, 2002 also saw the disappearance of Larami Ltd. as its offices and such became merged/engulfed by Hasbro Inc. bringing into question what plans Hasbro Inc had for the Super Soaker line.
In 2003, the Max-D lineup was recoloured, having at least two varieties for each blaster, as well as expanded to include the Max-D Secret Strike. As well, a new line was introduced known as the EES (Electronic Enhanced Soakage). The EES lineup featured soakers that have sounds and sometimes lights+motion that is activated by pulling the blaster's trigger. Thankfully, the electronic component is not necessary for the blaster to function as a water blaster. As well, the electronic "enhancement" can also be turned off by toggling the switch to the off position.
2004 marked a new beginning for the Super Soaker line. Instead of just making water blasters, Hasbro was now launching the SoakerTag (tm) concept with a matching line of SoakerTag Super Soakers alongside. SoakerTags, themselves, are small body target devices that, when hit with a direct stream of water, will be blasted off. This device allows one to objectively determine whether a player is to be eliminated from a game or not as opposed to just soaking until everyone is dripping. The SoakerTag line of blasters, themselves, employed air-pressure or piston-pressure to power their streams. These blasters were known as the Liquidator (air), the Hydroblade (air), the Vaporizer (piston), the Helix (piston), and the Triple Aggressor (air). For small kids, Super Soaker released the Aqua Squirts line featuring small boat-shaped soakers with detachable figures atop of them. The CPS4100 was also found still in select stores, but noticeably absent was CPS-based blasters.
In 2005, we see a continuation of the development of the SoakerTag game with the introduction of the SoakerTag Elite line. Soaker styling appeared more back-to-business when compared to some of the models in 2002 and 2003. As well, the SoakerTag Elite series included new soaker designs that used CPS-technology, something that had not been seen since the release of the CPS2100 back in 2002. As well, a new backpack soaker, the Aquapack Devastator, was introduced to the new generation of soaker-philes. Perhaps the most notable of the 2005 Super Soaker releases is the Flash Flood. The Flash Flood follows in the footsteps of the Max-D Secret Strike, but uses a single CPS-chamber to power both the stream nozzle as well as the Flash Flood nozzle. The end result is a mid-sized water blaster capable of producing either streams or a riot-type blast simple by using the appropriate trigger. As both nozzles shared the same pressure chamber, one did not need to worry that some water could only be used for one type of attack and not the other.
In 2006, Hasbro Inc. introduced the Max-Infusion Super Soaker series. The notable feature of Max-Infusion capable blasters is that they could have an optional backpack or hip-pack water reservoir attached to increase overall capacity. In order to allow for the hose to attach, the Quick Fill caps were threaded in reverse and slightly enlargened to accomodate the hose connection. While this made unscrewing reservoir caps counter-intuitive, the fact that reservoirs could be refilled without needing to remove the cap as well as allowing for the attachment of a reservoir expansion helped compensate for this perculiarity. New in 2006 were the Max-Infusion Defender and Max-Infusion Overload. Additionally, the Helix and Vaporizer were re-released with no internal changes, but with Max-Infusion caps. In addition to the Max-Infusion line, Hasbro Inc. also experimented with a novelty blaster known as the Super Soaker Oozinator. The Oozinator's claim to fame was its ability not only to blast water, but it also had a piston-based nozzle that fired out "Bio-Ooze", a non-toxic, slightly tinted gooey substance that would be used to "ooze" your friends. Unfortunately, this novelty lacked usefulness in the water warfare field. Moreover, the consistency and motions involved in using the "Bio-Ooze" nozzle ended up making the Oozinator very questionable to some.
By 2007, the Max-Infusion capability was added to basically all the new Super Soakers it would be compatible (i.e. all new Super Soakers except for those relying on pressurized reservoirs). However, the Max-Infusion line name gave way to the Aqua Shock series. While there were a number of newer designs, the most notable and largest water blaster seen for a few years was the Hydro Blitz. The Super Soaker Hydro Blitz is shaped akin to a real mini-gun and featured dual nozzles: one regular stream nozzle and one, large Blitz nozzle. Unlike the Flash Flood, the Hydro Blitz large nozzle did not simply blast when selected. Instead, the blaster's main pressure chamber would fill a secondary firing chamber up to a critical point upon which the Blitz nozzle would then fire automatically. The resulting blasts were staggered, pulsing as the secondary chamber would fill and empty. The other notable different with the Hydro Blitz is its lever-based pumping action. Due to the design of the blaster, Hasbro Inc. decided it would be better to place the pump on the top of the blaster, attaching it to a lever to allow greater force to be applied. The pump also worked in both directions, moving water to the main pressure chamber when pushed forward or pulled back. However, the pump volume per stroke still remained roughly equivalent to smaller water blasters.
In 2008, only two new Super Soakers appeared on the market: the Quick Blast and the Bottle Shot. The Quick Blast features a new type of pressure-sensitive nozzle that only fires when enough pressure has built up in the small firing chamber. While the blaster itself has no trigger, the nozzle holds water in the small pressure chamber of the blaster and only allows full pressure shots to be produced. The result is no dribble shots from this piston-based blaster. The Bottle Shot, on the other hand, is an odd water blaster that basically allows a user to attach a variety of water bottles onto it for use. Apart from that, the Super Soaker line saw a number of re-released blasters, but no newer large water blasters.
In 2009, the only "new Super Soaker released was a remake/redesign of the original Super Soaker SS 50 called the Super Soaker SS 50: 20th Anniversary Edition. While sharing similar overal styling, the Super Soaker SS 50: 20th Anniversary Edition features a non-removable reservoir with a screw-cap and uses an internal ball valve as the nozzle valve as opposed to the original's pinch trigger system. These changes make for a sturdier build and some improved performance. Apart from the Super Soaker SS 50: 20th Anniversary Edition, the remainder of the Super Soaker line was comprised of recolours of previous models.
In 2010, Hasbro Inc. opted to push the Super Soaker brand into the Nerf line. They introduced the SoakerWars line of Nerf Super Soakers. With designes borrowing heavily from existing Nerf guns, the Super Soaker SoakerWars line sport distinctive styling, tactical rails for mounting add-ons, and come in either Red or Blue colour schemes. Four models were introduced in 2010: Hydro Fury, Bottle Blitz, Rattler, and Shot Blast. The Hydro Fury makes use of pressurized reservoir technology, the Bottle Blitz and Rattler are piston-based, while the Shot Blast uses the same pump-to-pressurize-and-shoot akin to the 2008 Super Soaker Quick Blast.
In 2011, the Nerf Super Soaker line continued to expand with designs continuing to resemble Nerf-type guns. While there are many compliments on the designs of these new water blasters, because of the space limitations within these more slender builds, performance and capacity are notably reduced. One feature that two of the new models use is swappable magazines known as Clip System Canisters. Altogether, five models were introduced for 2011: Point Break, Scatter Blast, Thunderstorm, Tornado Strike, and Hydro Cannon. The Point Break is the only new model to make use of air pressure while both the Scatter Blast and Tornado Strike are pump-based blasters. The Tornado Strike features nozzles that rotate with each pump akin to the Helix (2006). The Thunderstorm is the first water blaster with the Super Soaker name to feature a motorized pump; actual output, unfortunately, falls short being outperformed even by the smaller Point Break. The Hydro Cannon is the largest of the 2011 models and features CPS-type technology, but is limited to its burst / "Flood" type large nozzle and limited reservoir capacity. While the large nozzle definitely increases the area drenched by the blast, the Hydro Cannon's range is limited since it cannot produce streams.
In 2012, the Nerf Super Soaker line added a number of products to the line including the Micro Burst, Lightningstorm, and Electrostorm. Oddly, none of the new models employed stored pressurization systems, instead relying on either pump-action (for the Micro Burst) or a motorized pump (for the Lightningstorm, and Electrostorm). Additionally, a number of accessory products under the Nerf Super Soaker brand, but produced by Perpetual Play Inc. appeared on store shelves later in the year. These include the Rocket Dart, Pool Splash Mat, Battle Shield, and Assault Bunker. The actual usefulness of these accessories for training purposes or in an actual water war remains somewhat questionable, though the concept of specialized water warfare equipment shows promise.
Over the years, Johnson has remained actively involved in the creative aspects of the Super Soaker® product line. He has put in place a full product development facility staffed with engineers and industrial designers from the Georgia Institute of Technology. With his team, he is now able to independently follow through on his creations and carry them through to full-scale manufacturing. He has accomplished this in the past with Nerf® guns that he has created, such as the Blastfire and Wildfire. He has also created and tooled high performance compressed air rockets for Estes.
Lonnie Johnson is also responsible for many other developments, both toy and non-toy related. He is pictured above with some of the items which would simply not exist were it not for his visions. Johnson provided the creative spark and has continued to actively provide improvements for Super Soaker®; however, the success of Super Soaker® has been a team effort. All-in-all, the entire Larami team played indispensable roles in the Super Soaker’s ® success.
Johnson and D’Andrade provided the stability needed for the continued development of the Super Soaker® series. Unfortunately, Bruce D'Andrade passed away in 1998, may he rest well. iSoaker.com owes a good part of its own existence to the success, reliability, and performance of the Super Soaker® series of water blasters. We would also like to thank Lonnie and Bruce for introducing the Super Soaker® to the world, and for continuously reinventing this now-classic toy through further enhancements and developments.
Related Article: Pre-Super Soaker History