The Wham-O Frisbee

1968 Frisbee

Ah, the rivalry between Ivy League schools. Who invented the ubiquitous flying disk known as the Frisbee? The consensus agrees that the Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, made pies that were sold to many New England colleges. Students soon discovered that the empty pie tins could be tossed and caught, providing a fun way to work off the calories just consumed. But who did it first?

Yale claims that a student named Elihu Frisbie grabbed a collection plate from the chapel and flung it across the schoolyard in 1820.

Even very few Yalies believe that.

The identity of the first pie-pan throwing student, or what school he/she attended, will forever be a mystery. But Frisbie pies, while gone since 1958, have their name live on in (at least in homonym form) the Wham-O Frisbee,

The plastic disk can trace its origin back to one Walter Morrison, who was enjoying tossing a popcorn can lid back and forth with his girlfriend in 1937. Morrison conceived of an aerodynamic toy that would likely be popular.

Frisbie pie tin

In the meantime, World War II intervened. Morrison found himself a prisoner in Stalag 13, along with another soldier named Warren Franscioni. They discussed going into business together if they could survive the grueling prison camp.

Survive they did, and in 1946, Morrison patented a flying disk. His first model was the Whirlo-Way, which didn’t make a whole lot of noise, sales-wise. Franscioni and Morrison parted ways in 1950.

By 1955, the public began to be captivated with UFO’s. Morrison began producing the Pluto Platter that year, and was more successful. The owners of a small but up-and-coming company called Wham-O saw big sales potential, and bought Morrison out while still giving him royalties. Everybody won.

The only thing Wham-O’s Rick Knerr didn’t like about the amazingly aerodynamic disks was the name. “Pluto Platter” didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Having heard the pie plate story, he decided, with a trademark-ready spelling change, to call the flying disks Frisbees.

Today, Frisbee is one of the most recognizable brand names on the planet. In fact, it was back in the mid 60’s, when I got my first one and tossed it around the yard. You can buy them in many incarnations, from glow-in-the-dark to edible (for your pet) to expensive tournament models.

Of course, if you don’t mind an advertisement on it, you can get them free at trade shows. That’s my preferred method of ownership.

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