Plastics Finest Form
January 13, 1957: Wham-O Produces 1st Frisbee
William Frisbie opens the Frisbie Pie Company in 1871. Soon after students from nearby universities would throw the empty pie tins to each other, yelling “Frisbie!” as they let go.
Enter Walter Morrison a Los Angeles building inspector. Morrison had a pedigree, his father was an inventor (he invented the auto sealed-beam headlight) and like his father he had an inventive mind. In 1948, he invented a plastic version of the Frisbie that could fly further and with better accuracy than the tin pie plates college students were using.
As a boy in Utah, he would sail pie tins, paint-can lids, and the like. He remembered those pleasurable moments and his mind turned to perfecting the pie tin into a commercial product. Unsuccessfully he tried welded a steel ring inside the rim to improve the plate’s stability, that didn’t work. In a surge of foresight he adopted the wonder material of the times, plastic. Plastic was the ideal stuff for the Frisbee. It seems impossible to imagine anything better, a Frisbee just might be plastic’s finest form.
The original “Vane” model of Morrison’s Flying Saucer’s was named for the six topside curved spoilers (vanes). They were designed to improve lift by facilitating the Bernoulli principle. Curiously, the spoilers were on backwards, they would only work for a counterclockwise spin.
In 1951 Morrison vastly improved his model and the design which served as Wham-O’s legendary Pluto Platter. The Pluto Platter is the basic design for all succeeding Frisbees.
At the time flying saucers from outer space were beginning to capture people’s imagination. He thought why not capitalize on the craze. The Pluto Platter saw the UFO influence in its design with cabin portholes and planet rings hinting at an extraterrestrial origin. [lead picture above, Morrison promoting his saucers]
Rich Knerr and A.K.”Spud” Melin fresh from the University of Southern California were making slingshots (and eventually Hula-Hoops and Super Balls) in their fledgling toy company when they first saw Morrison’s flying saucers whizzing around southern California beaches. In late 1955, they cornered Morrison while he was hawking his wares and tying up traffic on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Just before he was asked to break it up by the local cops, the duo invited him to their San Gabriel factory and made him a proposition.
Thus, flying saucers landed on the West Coast in San Gabriel, and on January 13, 1957, they began to fly out from a production line that has since sent over one hundred million sailing all over the globe.
“At first the saucers had trouble catching on,” Rich Knerr reminisces, “but we were confident they were good, so we sprinkled them in different parts of the country to prime the market.” On a trip to the campuses of the Ivy League, Knerr first heard the term “Frisbee.”
The Frisbie Baking Company (1871-1958) of Bridgeport, Connecticut, made pies that were sold to many New England colleges. Hungry college students soon discovered that the empty pie tins could be tossed and caught, providing endless hours of game and sport.
Harvard students said they had been tossing the pie plates around for years, they called it Frisbie-ing. Knerr liked the terms Frisbie and Frisbie-ing, so he borrowed them. Having no idea of the historical origins, he spelled the saucer “Frisbee”, phonetically correct, but one vowel away from the Frisbie Pie Company.
Frisbee was born. Today “Frisbee” is a registered trademark of Mattel.