People enjoy their pastimes and many of those pastimes include fun and games. In this installment of our series about inventions by Black Americans, we’ll review a few contributions that make leisure time more enjoyable.

For many children, and perhaps adults, summertime wouldn’t be the same without the Super Soaker. While many are familiar with the water gun, it might be less known that the popular toy is the invention of a Black American who was an Air Force and NASA engineer, Lonnie Johnson.

Johnson earned a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering, an M.S. degree in Nuclear Engineering and an honorary Ph.D. in Science from Tuskegee University.

Johnson founded his own engineering firm in 1989, licensing his most famous invention, the Super Soaker, to Larmi Corp, which was later purchased by Hasbro Corporation. His water gun is reportedly the result of his work on an environmentally friendly heat pump.

Johnson remains president of Johnson Research and Development Co, Inc., is a board member of the Hank Aaron “Chasing the Dream” Foundation, and serves as a trustee to the Boys & Girls Club of America.

Johnson currently holds over 100 patents, with more pending.

Those who enjoy playing golf have Dr. George Grant to thank for the golf tee. Prior to this simple devise, golfers had to pinch moist sand to fashion a tee.

Born in 1847, Grant graduated Harvard Dental School with honors in 1870 as the second African American to earn a degree in dentistry. He was hired by the school in mechanical dentistry where he developed inserts for patients with cleft palates. After gaining international fame within the dental community, Grant opened his own practice.

Grant became an avid golfer but was reportedly annoyed enough by the process pinching sand prior to teeing off that he invented the golf tee, receiving a patent in 1899. Not being a marketer, Grant did not reap financial benefits from his invention which he gave away to playing partners and friends. Grant died in 1910.

The United States Golf Association recognized Grant as the original inventor of the wooden tee in 1991.

Those who enjoy a little more excitement in their recreation may be grateful to Granville T. Woods, inventor of an amusement ride that became the predecessor of today’s roller coaster. He demonstrated his electric roller coaster, called the Figure Eight, at Coney Island.

Woods was born in 1856 and began working in a machine shop at the age of 10. He studied electrical and mechanical engineering and received his first patent for a steam boiler furnace in 1884.

Woods is, perhaps, most famous for his multiplex telegraph, a device capable of sending messages to and from moving trains. His notoriety may be due as much to who sued him for patent rights as much as the invention itself. After Thomas Edison’s suit against Woods proved unsuccessful, Edison offered Woods a partnership which Edison declined.

Woods formed his own company, Woods Electric Co and was joined by his brother Lyates Woods.

Among the 60 patents Woods received, were patents for an electric railway conduit and an automatic brake system. Unfortunately, he had difficulty marketing his inventions resulting in the sale of them to well-financed corporations.

Resources used for this feature include articles from,,,, and

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