Lonnie Johnson (1949-Present)
What He Invented: The Super Soaker
Why It’s Important: The Super Soaker may have been a child’s toy, but it is a great example of an invention with a multimillion-dollar impact. The Super Soaker generated $200 million in annual retail sales and turned Mobile, Ala., native into a millionaire. He’s now using his fortune to develop energy technology.
George E. Alcorn (1949-Present)
What He Invented: The Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer
Why It’s Important: The Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer allowed scientists to examine materials that could not be broken down into smaller parts for study, revolutionizing the way NASA was able to conduct research. As a result of the significance of this work, in 1984 he was the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Inventor of the Year. Two years later he also developed an improved method of fabrication using laser drilling.
Percy L. Julian (1899-1975)
What He Invented: The Process Of Synthesis.
Why It’s Important: Synthesis was critical to the medical industry as it allowed scientists to create chemicals that were rare in nature. The chemist’s work led to the birth control pill and improvements in the production of cortisone. In 2007 the PBS Nova series created a documentary on Julian’s life called Forgotten Genius.
Frederick M. Jones (1892-1961)
What He Invented: Mobile Refrigeration
Why It’s Important: His invention allowed the transportation of perishable foods such as produce and meats, which changed eating habits across the country. Thermo King, the company he co-founded, became a leading manufacturer of refrigerated transportation. Jones also developed an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens. Jones was awarded over 60 patents during his lifetime.