Ever heard of the “Power Drencher”?
Not many people know, but that was the first name for the iconic “Super Soaker” toy. A toy launched by an engineer from Mobile, Alabama who grew up in the racially charged 1960s, attended Tuskegee University, and worked for both the Air Force and NASA before inventing the line of toys that would gross over $1 billion in sales.
Lonnie Johnson was a born tinkerer and loved to experiment and build contraptions as a kid, and it seemed his path into engineering was set in stone from an early age. After success early in his career, Lonnie found himself one day working on a project to use water instead of harmful CFC’s for use as a refrigerant fluid. He attached a nozzle to his bathroom sink, and noticed the strong stream of water he could blast with it. That was the first time he envisioned using his skills to build a toy water gun, and several months later he set to work.
“After I had settled into my new job and home, I set to work making the parts of the plastic water gun on a little lathe and milling machine in the basement. I really had no idea if the magic I had in mind was going to materialize until all the parts were put together and I was ready to pull the trigger.”
Well, it did indeed work, and by the early 80s Lonnie had a working prototype ready for manufacturing… That’s when the harsh reality of production costs hit, and Lonnie was told it would cost $200,000 to get the first 1,000 guns off the production line.
Thereafter he had seven years of frustration and difficulties trying to launch the product himself.
In February of 1989, still not discouraged by his failures, Lonnie took his idea to the American International Toy Fair in New York. It was there that he ran into the vice-president of the toy company Larami, who offered for him to pitch the idea at their headquarters in Philadelphia. Lonnie set to work on new, more refined designs, using PVC piping and Plexiglas, as well as a 2-liter soda bottle for the reservoir. (See picture on left)
His meeting with the executives and marketing team of Larami was a huge success, and after some work to refine the design and make a production model, the “Power Drencher” hit store shelves. Sales were good enough the first year without marketing that they decided to rebrand the toy as the “Super Soaker” and do a huge push with TV ads.
That year they sold 20 million units, and the rest is history.
So what does this have to do with Magic Wizard Staff?
Well, just like Lonnie we have an idea for a product. They won’t be remembered as technological marvels. They won’t revolutionize our thinking. And they most likely won’t gross $1 billion in sales. But what they will do is bring advancement to an industry that needs something new, to several hobbies that badly need some engineering nerds to step in and say “Hey, what you’re doing is great… But why can’t we do more?“.
They’ll be the vehicle for us to express our creativity, and they’ll be the shared commitment to building what our future customers have always dreamed of. You want fire? We’ll give you fire. You want LARP safe spell projectiles? We’ll give you magic missiles. You want a staff that makes you levitate and turn invisible by shouting a spell?… well, we’ll work on it but no promises.
So moving forward, let’s all keep Lonnie Johnson in mind. The Lonnie Johnson who grew up in the south during segregation, who fought against the norms and graduated with a masters degree, who never stopped tinkering and learning, who made one of the most iconic toys of all time that most of us have fond childhood memories of… all because he wouldn’t give up on his idea. We all have some idea we’ve stumbled on but never pursued. Something we thought could be, but never was. All it takes is a little elbow grease, some faith in yourself, and the idea that if you work at it enough, you can make anything happen.
Supreme Director of Marketing Operations
Magic Wizard Staff