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History of the Flying Disc

April 18th, 2013 Games

In backyards, college campuses, parks and other grassy areas worldwide, people love to toss around flying discs, which are often referred to by the brand name "Frisbee." These toys have many uses. Dogs can catch them, they're handy for a back and forth game of catch, and they're essential to playing "Ultimate Frisbee."

According to the New York Times, more than 200 million Frisbees have been sold since Wham-O bought the manufacturing rights from co-inventor William Fredrick Morrison. He originally called his creation the Pluto Platter, and also toyed with names like The Flyin' Cake Pan, the Whirlo-Way and the Flyin-Saucer.

At first, Morrison detested the name "Frisbee." Many years after he had made millions in royalties from the flying discs' popularity, he decided Frisbee wasn't such a bad name after all.

The Frisbie Pie Company
Oddly enough, the term "Frisbee" might not have originated with flying discs of any kind. In fact, it once applied to a pie company with a slightly different spelling.

According to the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), it was 1871 when William Russell Frisbie left behind a job in his father's grist mill to manage a bakery in Bridgeport, Conn. Eventually, he bought the factory and rechristened it the Frisbie Pie Company. A little more than 30 years later, Frisbie died. After his son took charge, the Frisbie Pie Company exploded from six to 250 franchises located in major cities all over New England. By 1956, the Frisbie Pie Company was churning out 80,000 pies per day.

Now, the WFDF points to two different versions of a story that explains how the term "Frisbee" came to describe flying discs instead of delicious pies and cookies. But there appears to be some agreement that it was students at Yale University who first started throwing Frisbie tins around their school's grounds, while yelling "Frisbie!" No one seems certain whether they were throwing pie tins or cookie tins. But, without question, they were yelling "Frisbie."

Walter Fredrick Morrison and Ed Headrick
It may surprise some readers to know that Walter Fredrick Morrison, credited with being the first man to market flying pie, cookie and popcorn tins, only died in 2010 at the age of 90.

In his obituary, The Times reports that a then 17-year-old Morrison was first inspired to create the Frisbee, not by Yale students blowing off steam, but at a picnic in 1937. According to the news source, Morrison and his girlfriend realized that leftover popcorn and pie tins were fun to toss back and forth. A passerby, noticing how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves, offered to purchase one of the leftover tins for 25 cents. The young couple went on to make enough money to get married off their business selling used pie tins.

Legend has it that Morrison would apply a carnival hawker's, or magician's, style to his advertising. He'd tell crowds of onlookers that his flying discs were being suspended and spun by 100 feet of invisible wire, which he'd give them for a dollar. According to the New York Times, the flying disc itself was said to come complimentary with the "invisible" string.

About 30 years later, Morrison sold his patent for the "flying toy" to the Wham-O company for mass production. It was the head of research and development for Wham-O, Ed Headrick, who truly perfected the Pluto Platter into the Frisbee. Headrick applied science to Morrison's madness by making the discs more aerodynamic, and came up with the concept of adding stability-enhancing rings to the top of the plastic discs.