The Super Soaker

July 13 2014

S-U-P-E-R S-O-A-K-E-R. For ’90s kids, no two words emblazoned in neon triggered the same joyous reaction. The TV ads were everywhere, a comically irate camp counselor screaming: “WETTER IS BETTER!” Summer days were spent outside, hiding behind minivans, lawn furniture, and tree trunks. And there were kamikaze missions—running around in tight combat formation, soaking everything until tanks ran dry.

The sprint back to the hose was equally tense. Who could fill their tank first before the water started flying again? Was there a cease-fire in place? (Do 9 year-olds honor cease-fires?)

Thanks to Lonnie Johnson, originally a nuclear engineer (because of course) and the creator of the Super Soaker, the summers of the 90’s were filled with happy battles. We can also personally thank Mr. Johnson for prematurely muscled adolescent forearms—the amount of pumping needed on some Super Soaker models should have qualified as an Olympic workout. Then again, whatever it took to place a perfect stream directly in your friend’s (read: enemy’s) eyeball.


Over the years many increasingly ostentatious variants were introduced—the more rare among them can even be worth a pretty penny today. Lucky for us, British illustrator and all-round good chap, Joe Oliver, has made it his ongoing mission to illustrate the greatest greats among them. So far he’s got five down:

The Super Soaker 50
This is the original—the old stand-by. It was the first Super Soaker that Lonnie Johnson pitched to Larami Corp. (later a part of Hasbro) in 1989, and remained a signature for the brand. Johnson’s design blew competitors out of the water due to its air-pressurized reservoir system. At the time, everything else ran on batteries. At the time, nothing could stop me from spraying my dad in the face with this.


The XP 105
This took the SS 50 a few years later and injected it with a bit of steroids (and more neon plastic). Where the previous iteration was merely a handgun, this thing was a full-on rifle. It also included a pressure gauge, so you could quickly assess how long your friend would be stunned for if you shot them square in the face. The feeling of badassery was raised significantly here with a maximum firing range of almost 30 feet. That’s about the distance of an average driveway.

The XXP 275
Where’s the trigger? What’s that big handle doing on top of the gun? More neon! Upping the ante on bulbous water tanks, the 275 packed a punch when it came out in 1995. It also had the firehose-inspired yellow lever, which made you to feel extra cool—that is until you try to shoot and pump at the same time and realize it’s physically impossible with your tiny preadult arms.


This Super Soaker also increased the Rambo factor by including a shoulder strap. This thin strip of polyester helped ease the load of all 90 devastating ounces and made you feel like the greatest preteen that ever lived. Unarguably the best additions of all, however, were the nozzle selectors. The four nozzle settings were: 1x, 3x, a fan sweep, and showerhead-style spray. You now had multiple ways to make that tree your friend was hiding behind very wet.

The CPS 1000
This technically came out in 1997, a year after the next gun in this list, but no matter. The CPS series was a huge stepping stone because it introduced an elastic membrane material inside the gun. Basically, it made the gun viciously powerful—so much that it hurt to get shot with. It also nailed down the now-recognizable gray, purple, and orange color scheme.


Including a shoulder strap, the CPS series nailed down imperfections in past models. It had a tether on the reservoir cap so it would never be lost, a build-in handle, and a sturdy pump. Unfortunately, it still pales in comparison to one other Super Soaker.

The CPS 2000
This is it—the Super Soaker at the top of the neon plastic stairway to heaven. The 2000 was only produced in 1996, and was eventually discontinued because the spray was too powerful. How powerful? So powerful that the later-released CPS 2500’s dramatic “20x” setting was still not as strong as the original 2000’s nozzle.

This generally meant that when you saw little Jimmy negotiating a tight corner with the CPS 2000, you ran in the other direction. When angled and fully pumped, the gun had a range of over 50 feet. Slung over a kid’s shoulder, it looked like a bazooka. Slung over an adult’s shoulder, it looked like a slightly smaller bazooka.


Austin Bryant is a freelance writer based in Boston, MA. Follow him on Instagram.
Major thanks to Joe Oliver for the rad illustrations.