Over at Wired, there is a photo set of early prototypes of iconic products. Here is the story for everyone's favorite summer toy, the super soaker:
Lonnie Johnson was trying to build a better refrigerator, based on a low-cost heat pump that circulated water instead of Freon. But when one of his custom-machined brass nozzles blasted a stream of water across his bathroom, Johnson—by day an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—realized he had the makings of something way more fun. A shotgun-style air pump and a series of check valves allowed for sniperlike range and accuracy with little exertion. Selling the idea to toy companies, though, was more of an effort. After seven years of frustration, Johnson scrapped his difficult-to-manufacture Plexiglas “pressure containment vessel” for an empty 2-liter soda bottle. It wasn’t slick, but it was easy to make. In 1990, the toy maker Larami brought the Power Drencher to store shelves; it sold roughly 2 million of them in the first year alone. Rebranded as the Super Soaker, the line has raked in sales of more than $200 million to date.