Monday, June 18, 2007

An Invention That Changed The World: Happy Aniversary to the Frisbee!

Every object has a history, and behind that history an inventor, the person who thought it up first. Sometimes who was first 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 have to argue "No it was me, I thought of it first." Many people have claimed to have invented the Frisbee. 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.

The Frisbee is celebrated a five-decade milestone this weekend. It was 50 years ago yesterday that Emeryville-based Wham-O changed the name of the beloved flying disc from the Pluto Platter to the Frisbee. Frisbee is now name as synonymous with flying discs as Google is with searching on the Internet, or Kleenex is with tissue.

In 1948, a Los Angeles building inspector named Walter Frederick Morrison 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 America after World War II, where he had been a prisoner in the infamous Stalag 13. His partnership with Warren Franscioni, who was also a war veteran, ended before their product had achieved any real success.

Morrison produced a plastic Frisbie called the Pluto Platter, to cash in on the growing popularity of UFOs with the American public. The Pluto Platter has become the basic design for all Frisbies. The outer third of the Frisbie disc is called the 'Morrison Slope' and was awarded a patent for his flying disc. He's received over one million dollars in royalties for his invention. The word 'Frisbee' helped increase sales. Sales soared for the toy, due to Wham-O's clever marketing of Frisbee playing as a new sport.

In 1967, high school students in Maplewood, New Jersey, invented Ultimate Frisbee, a recognized sport that is a cross between football, soccer and basketball. Ten years later, a form of Frisbee golf was introduced, complete with professional playing courses and associations. It's amazing to me how people can take something as simple as a molded piece of plastic and create a sport from it. The Ultimate Frisbee Association and the Frisbee Golf Association have as many members as the PGA! So just who is the Tiger Woods of Frisbee Golf?

Frisbee's name is a spin-off from a Connecticut bakery called the Frisbie Pie Company. New England college students used to toss empty pie tins around for fun -- a habit that led them to refer to the Pluto Platter as a "frisbie." Wham-O's co-founders obtained the marketing rights to the Pluto Platter in January 1957 and six months later changed its name to Frisbee. Its inventor, Walter "Fred" Morrison, says he originally thought Frisbee was a terrible name. He's now 87 years old, lives in Utah and collects royalties from his invention. In this otherwise simple baking operation we find the popular legend of the origin of the earliest 'flying frisbie'! The company offered a variety of bakery goodies, including pies and cookies, and therein resides the roots of the controversy. For there are two crusty schools concerning the flying frisbie's origin: the Pie-Tin School and the Cookie- Tin School, each camp holding devoutly to its own argument. The Pie-Tin School.

The Pie-Tin School: The pie-tin people claim Yale students bought Frisbie's pies (undoubtedly a treat in themselves) and tossed the prototype all over Eli's campus. These early throwers would exclaim "Frisbie" to signal the catcher. And well they might, for a tin Frisbie pan is something else again to catch.

The Cookie-Tin School. Now the cookie tin people agree on these details save one: they insist that the true, original was the cookie-tin lid that held in the goodness of Frisbie's sugar cookies.

And in another great waster of government money, the U.S. Navy spent almost $400,000 to study Frisbees in wind tunnels, following their flights with computers and cameras, and building a special Frisbee-launching machine on top of a Utah cliff to test a prototype flare launcher. Today the fifty year old Frisbee® is owned by Mattel and Wham-O had sold over one hundred million units before the selling the toy to Mattel.

Wham-O has been trying to capitalize on the Frisbee's 50th anniversary by releasing collector's editions of the early models. Meanwhile, Morrison, who lives in Richfield, Utah, still is collecting royalties off a name he didn't really like. "It just goes to show I am a bad judge of names," Morrison said.

A bad judge of names? I don't think so Fred. You've made loads of bucks off a plastic disk that probably costs all of 25 cents to make. Sp to you, I say "Congratulations" and Happy Anniversary! You rock man!