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A Wet History of Top Guns

Review: Water Gun Roundup
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The oldest known water gun was patented June 30 1896 as the USA Liquid Pistol to the pistol-shaped toy would be a squeeze bulb and tubing, allowing it to shoot water. By the 1930s, trigger-pull plastic guns, which worked like a spray bottle, were popular -- and actually resembled real guns! Manufacturers looked for new ways to use the technology, like this pesticide-shooter from 1931 and this ray gun from the 1960s.

The evolution of the modern water-blaster really began in the 1980s. An aerospace engineer named Lonnie Johnson was working for the Air Force in 1982 when he came up with the idea of a heat pump that used water instead of Freon as a cooling fluid. While experimenting with some tubing in his bathroom, Johnson shot water through a high-pressure nozzle, and quickly turned his interest into making a prototype pump water gun using PVC piping, plastic bottles, and Plexiglas for his 6 year-old daughter. She soon became the envy of the neighborhood and Johnson took out several patents to protect his work. Although he began shopping the idea to toy companies soon after, it took until 1989 for the idea to gain traction. That year, the Larami Corportation (which had previously released a battery-powered water gun fashioned after the Uzi) bought the rights and began making the Power Drencher, which became the Super Soaker the following year.


The explosion of high-powered water guns in the 1990s didn’t come without controversy. In Boston, a summer 1992 water fight escalated into a real gunfight, and one teenager was shot to death, causing Boston's mayor to ask local stores to stop stocking Super Soakers. Shortly after, a water fight spun out of control in New York and left two teenagers wounded. Politicians and law enforcement personnel faulted water gun makers in the wake of these tragedies, though others argued that it was real guns that were the problem. Despite the hullabaloo, the Super Soaker was the top-selling summer toy in the world by 1998, with retail sales at over $200 million.

Today, water guns come in all shapes and sizes, including battery-powered and upscale models. Though most guns stick to the neon and purple color palette of the early 1990s, there are some fashion-forward water toys on the market as well. The most recent guns combine air-pressure technology with other gimmicks, like colored water dye or the ability to shoot in several directions at once.

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  • 1 Hide
    mason_s , May 14, 2009 10:32 PM
    The soakability test needed to include a measure of soakiness over a particular time period. It was pretty obvious going in which one would win; the one with the longest duration on one trigger pull, with little variance from that theme. Had you folks included level of soakiness over, say, ten seconds, regardless of the number of trigger pulls, that would have definitely got the one-pumps back in the game and really gave us an idea of real-world usefullness.

    Other than that, this article has been the highlight of my day! :D 
  • -6 Hide
    Anonymous , May 14, 2009 11:50 PM
    stop wasting the resources
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 15, 2009 12:58 AM
    I had the super soaker 50 as my weapon of choice even against the rich kid with the backpack model super soaker It reigned supreme. The 70 was a good one too but required to much pumping.
  • 0 Hide
    San Pedro , May 15, 2009 1:29 AM
    I like the water cannons. Just a tube to suck water in, and shoot it out of. Only useful if you are at a lake, river, etc, though.
  • 0 Hide
    kato128 , May 15, 2009 1:47 AM
    The only one that could hold a candle to the good ol 50 was the 200. It was a bit heavy but you could soak someone from 20m away. Out gunned my uncle who had the hose one time.
  • 0 Hide
    acherimoya , May 15, 2009 4:05 AM
    Ugh, now I have to dig my old Super Soakers out of whatever closet they're buried in...!!!
  • 2 Hide
    maigo , May 15, 2009 4:12 AM
    I'm a fan of the classic 50, but an adult version would be awesome
    Milled aluminum, larger pump, shoulder strap, quick change bottles.
  • 0 Hide
    StupidRabbit , May 15, 2009 7:51 AM
    :D  I love the scientific graphs used in this article, especially the soakiness.. but great article though, i was surprised to see such an article on this site :) 
  • 0 Hide
    matt2k , May 15, 2009 10:58 AM
    Oh this brings back memories. I remember one summer when a friend who had to much money spent about 150 Euros on a MASSIVE (and highly powerfull) supersoaker. only problem was the tank ran out too fast and getting the maximum pressure was quite tough. of course on max it could drench you in seconds.
    I then used my budding engineering skills to devise a backpack with a small (waterproof) battery powered waterpump to gain more water and sustained pressure. good times :) 
  • 0 Hide
    LATTEH , May 15, 2009 12:40 PM
    damn it how come they dont make water guns when i was a kid they had a backback water tank and a super soaker bazooka
  • 0 Hide
    cielmerlion , May 15, 2009 1:45 PM
    LOL I was one of the ones that saved my money and bought a MASSIVE super soaker when i was little. Took me forever to pay off tohugh i forget how much it was. The this was super heavy and cape with a tripod it was so heavy it broke one of the legs. Good times :p 
  • -5 Hide
    Schizoid , May 15, 2009 1:59 PM
    You might as well fire-up this kind of review under "Tom's Kid Guide". Yes, us mature adults have fun with them too but we don't care to read about it on a *technical* site. THG is not at all what it used to be...thanks BoM.

    The only positive thing is the few cleavage shots!!
  • -5 Hide
    warplord , May 15, 2009 2:09 PM
    Yeah, I got some insight on some "bring back the memories" soakers but, no pun intended, I'd have to agree...this just isn't what Tom's is about bros/sis'. There's nothing technical using a water gun. If you can't find something to write about with all the gadgets out there and all the arguments within these gadgets then you definitely have a problem. Now if you want to rig up a water gun to a computer interfaced via a webcam and a custom controller then go for it! Now that would be interesting!!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 15, 2009 2:44 PM
    I thought this article was AWESOMES!
    I remember when super soakers came out... remember how much they cost? $50! Or at least that's what my parents told me... :( 
    I know there were other soakers out there. I loved my 50 for getting people wet, and I had another that would fire a large amount of water that would run out fast. My favorite though was this unnamed soaker. Yellow body with red container, the steam diameter was soo tiny you could keep the stream at max until the water ran out (shot pretty far too). It was the best for filling with pretty hot water, and then going outside and shooting icicles off my house. Once we had this HUGE icicle, it was dangerous (40 pounds of sheer stabbiness if it fell). My dad went outside with a blowtorch to try and get it down without breaking the window it was hanging over, yet barely made a dent. I went out there with my trusty gun and cut into that thing like a high powered laser XD My gun died though when an impact destroyed the cap on the bottle :( 
    I wish they made more awesome soakers again, with those pressure gauges and all the bells and whistles.
  • 1 Hide
    Tomsguiderachel , May 15, 2009 4:04 PM
    SchizoidYou might as well fire-up this kind of review under "Tom's Kid Guide". Yes, us mature adults have fun with them too but we don't care to read about it on a *technical* site. THG is not at all what it used to be...thanks BoM.The only positive thing is the few cleavage shots!!

    Who is the immature one?
    And yes, we do write reviews for kids' gadgets on this site once in a while. Believe me, you don't want to get into an argument with me on the definition of the word "gadget."
  • 0 Hide
    Tomsguiderachel , May 15, 2009 4:05 PM
    warplordYeah, I got some insight on some "bring back the memories" soakers but, no pun intended, I'd have to agree...this just isn't what Tom's is about bros/sis'. There's nothing technical using a water gun. If you can't find something to write about with all the gadgets out there and all the arguments within these gadgets then you definitely have a problem. Now if you want to rig up a water gun to a computer interfaced via a webcam and a custom controller then go for it! Now that would be interesting!!

    Dude. Just a friendly reminder that we have two sites: Tom's Hardware, and Tom's Guide. No more "Tom's Hardware Guide." Tom's Guide is emphatically NOT a "technical site." Thanks :) 
  • 0 Hide
    KT_WASP , May 15, 2009 7:13 PM
    Heh, I enjoyed this article.. made me think of summers gone by as a kid with nothing to worry about other then water gun wars! Love the charts and all!

    Great work.. and thanks for the memories you brought back!
  • 0 Hide
    Phosters , May 15, 2009 8:29 PM
    Fun article, thanks.
  • 3 Hide
    cracklint , May 15, 2009 8:43 PM
    schizoid & warplord, don't be douche's and ruin everyone elses fun.
  • 1 Hide
    Shadow703793 , May 15, 2009 8:44 PM
    You guys/gals over at the Toms Guides have too much free time.
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