Fab 40: Lonnie Johnson and Billy Perdue

Lonnie Johnson

Inventor and Engineer
Scientist Lonnie Johnson won international fame and fortune with his invention of the Super Soaker water gun.

Born in Mobile in 1949, Johnson’s boyhood science dreams developed into award-winning projects at Williamson High School and carried him through Tuskegee University, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mars Observer and the Saturn Cassini mission project. But, during a hydro heat pump project, he stumbled upon the toy that would make him famous. On “The Tonight Show, ” Johnny Carson super-soaked Ed McMahon and within 10 years, more than 200 million Super Soakers had been sold.

Johnson continued inventing and held more than 80 patents. In 2000, he was inducted into the Inventor Hall of Fame.

Billy Perdue

William C. “Billy” Perdue was a straight shooter of legendary proportions. The avid outdoorsman, a lifelong resident of Mobile, was widely renowned as one of the best shooters in the world until his death in 1997. Perdue joined European royalty and dignitaries on shoots for decades to display his supernatural hand-eye coordination.

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In registered tournaments, he broke 999 of 1, 000 skeet in ’48 and again in ’49.

Rumors say he never shot at clays again after that last feat, seeking the greater challenge of live pigeons. Before that, Perdue hit 957 straight clay targets in an international competition with a 20-gauge — a record that lasted for years. He was the first inductee to the Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame in 1972.

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John Sellers

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