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Alvin Davis, 78, businessman behind the Super Soaker

Alvin Davis, 78, formerly of Wynnewood, a businessman who recognized the potential of the Super Soaker and saw the toy water gun rocket to worldwide popularity in 1990 after he agreed to manufacture it, has died.

Alvin Davis.
Alvin Davis.Read more

Alvin Davis, 78, formerly of Wynnewood, a businessman who recognized the potential of the Super Soaker and saw the toy water gun rocket to worldwide popularity in 1990 after he agreed to manufacture it, has died.

Mr. Davis died Friday, June 5, from injuries he sustained in a fall while doing a repair at his summer home in Linville, N.C., his family said.

Although a resident of Naples, Fla., for the last decade, Mr. Davis was born in Philadelphia. He spent his childhood in South Philadelphia and Wynnefield. Later, he lived in Wynnewood.

In 1987, Mr. Davis and his partner, Myung Song, became the co-owners of Larami Corp., a toy company based in Philadelphia that specialized in battery-operated toy water guns.

In 1989, at a toy fair, Mr. Davis met Lonnie Johnson, 41, an engineer with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Johnson was peddling an idea for a pump-action toy water gun, but was without any takers.

Mr. Davis invited Johnson to Philadelphia for a demonstration, and signed him up on the spot. "I could sit here and say I was brilliant," Mr. Davis told The Inquirer, "but it was a simple thing, really. I liked it, and I thought kids would like it."

Using Johnson's patented air-pressure idea, Bruce D'Andrade, a Larami engineer, designed a simpler plastic toy that had a reservoir that could hold up to a half-gallon of water. Pull the trigger, and the bicycle-pump-style device shot water 55 feet.

The toy hit the market in spring 1990, and sales took off.

"The Super Soaker is part toy, part cultural phenomenon," The Inquirer's Mike Capuzzo wrote in July 1991. "More than two million have been sold in the 50 states and thousands more in Japan, Mexico, Canada, and Chile, most since March. Johnny Carson did a Super Soaker monologue.

"You see them at pools, beaches, lakes, wherever children and water meet. Suburban kids drench their dogs and cats; city kids get cool in the soaking spray."

The Super Soaker sold for between $7 and $30. Parents scoured toy stores, which sold out of the water pistol in just hours.

"We thought we'd have a hit," Mr. Davis told Capuzzo. "But we never imagined it would be like this."

For the next few years, the Super Soaker phenomenon and a $1 million ad campaign catapulted Larami to commercial success.

All the kids on a block wanted one, "because if they were going to have a water battle, they were going to lose unless they had a Super Soaker," Mr. Davis told Capuzzo.

Larami received awards from national retailers such as Toys R Us and Target. Mr. Davis, the co-owner in charge of sales and marketing, was honored in 1992 with the coveted Gold Effie for Advertising Effectiveness.

The son of a Russian Jewish immigrant father, Mr. Davis graduated from Overbrook High School in 1954, and immediately enlisted in the Army. After his military service, Mr. Davis returned to Philadelphia in 1956 and married Fern Kravitz.

Mr. Davis started out as a pet-shop employee with the dream of one day owning his own business. In 1960, he was offered a job in the shipping department at Ring Bros., a small Philadelphia toy distributing company.

For the next decade, he traveled the Eastern Seaboard selling toys to retail and wholesale customers. Soon he became the sales manager, and not long after that, he purchased a share of the company, which by then had become Larami.

In 1970, Mr. Davis and his partners sold Larami to Tastykake Inc. Mr. Davis left the company in 1978 to become part-owner of two other companies.

In 1981, Taskykake asked Mr. Davis and his partners to buy back Larami, as Tastykake found it was not a good match for the toy business.

They did so, and remade the firm as a toy maker. Mr. Davis and Song sold Larami to Hasbro at the height of the Super Soaker craze. The two ran the firm as a Hasbro subsidiary for seven years.

After a 40-year career, Mr. Davis retired in 2001 to devote his time to family, his love of automobiles, and his work with the Davis family foundation, which supports major charities.

In addition to his wife of almost 60 years, Mr. Davis is survived by a son, Richard; a daughter, Missy Davis Hetznecker; and five grandchildren.

Plans for a local memorial service were pending.

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