The History of the Frisbee

Dog chasing after a frisbee

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Every object has a history, and behind that history is an inventor. Who was the first to come up with the invention can be a topic for hot debate. Often several people independent of each other will all think of the same good idea at around the same time and will later argue something like "No it was me, I thought of it first." For example, many people have claimed to have invented the Frisbee.

The Legend Behind the “Frisbee” Name

The Frisbie Pie 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. Many colleges have claimed to be the home of "he who was first to fling." Yale College has even argued that in 1820 a Yale undergraduate named Elihu Frisbie grabbed a passing collection tray from the chapel and flung it out into the campus, thereby becoming the true inventor of the Frisbie and winning glory for Yale. That tale is unlikely to be true since the words “Frisbie's Pies” were embossed in all the original pie tins and it was from the word “Frisbie” that the common name for the toy was coined.

Early Inventors

In 1948, a Los Angeles building inspector named Walter Frederick Morrison and his partner Warren Franscioni invented a plastic version of the Frisbie that could fly further and with better accuracy than a tin pie plate. Morrison's father was also an inventor who invented the automotive sealed-beam headlight. Another interesting tidbit was that Morrison had just returned to the United States after World War II, where he had been a prisoner in the infamous Stalag 13. His partnership with Franscioni, who was also a war veteran, ended before their product had achieved any real success.

The word "Frisbee" is pronounced the same as the word “Frisbie.” Inventor Rich Knerr was in search of a catchy new name to help increase sales after hearing about the original use of the terms “Frisbie” and “Frisbie-ing.” He borrowed from the two words to create the registered trademark “Frisbee.” Soon after, sales soared for the toy, due to his company Wham-O's clever marketing of Frisbee playing as a new sport. In 1964, the first professional model went on sale.

Ed Headrick was the inventor at Wham-O who patented Wham-O's designs for the modern frisbee (U.S. patent 3,359,678). Ed Headrick's Frisbee, with its band of raised ridges called the Rings of Headrick, had stabilized flight as opposed to the wobbly flight of its predecessor the Pluto Platter.

Headrick, who invented the Wham-O Superball that sold over twenty million units, held the utility patent for the modern-day Frisbee, a product that has sold over two-hundred million units to date. Mr. Headrick led the advertising program, new products program, served as vice president of research and development, executive vice president, general manager and CEO for Wham-O Incorporated over a ten-year period. U.S. patent number 3,359,678 was issued to Headrick on December 26, 1967.

Today, the 50-year-old Frisbee is owned by Mattel Toy Manufacturers, one of at least sixty manufacturers of flying discs. Wham-O sold over one hundred million units before selling the toy to Mattel.

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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "The History of the Frisbee." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Bellis, Mary. (2021, February 16). The History of the Frisbee. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of the Frisbee." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 5, 2023).