The Frisbee turns 50

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In the beginning, there was a metal popcorn can lid. Walter "Fred" Morrison and his future wife, Lucile Nay, tossed one at a Thanksgiving Day family gathering in 1937 and thought it was good. They tried pie tins and cake pans next. They even sold some.

Then World War II broke out. Morrison served as a fighter pilot. After the war, he used his newfound knowledge of aerodynamics to build a better disc. Essential to Morrison's creation, American research and development during the war had refined the manufacturing process of a durable and lightweight material: plastic.

In 1947, Morrison teamed with Warren Franscioni, another former Army Air Corps pilot, to make plastic discs. Franscioni provided the cash for an injection mold, and they found a company to make their "Flyin-Saucer."

The partners demonstrated their discs and sold them at beaches, parks, fairs and retail stores. They amicably parted company in 1950.

Franscioni re-enlisted in the military, but he continued selling discs for a couple of years and collected royalties until the mid-1960s from the company that molded the Flyin-Saucers.

Morrison found another manufacturer that could make discs more cheaply and called them Pluto Platters. At the suggestion of a stranger who spotted him flipping his disc in a Los Angeles parking lot, Morrison took his 'Pluto Platter' to Wham-O Man-ufacturing Inc.

On Jan. 23, 1957, Morrison and his wife signed over all rights to the toy in exchange for quarterly royalty checks. Six months later, Wham-O began marketing the discs under a new name: Frisbee.

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A humble pie pan, according to Frisbee legend, is the origin of the flying discs' half-century-old moniker. The Frisbie Pie Co., founded in 1871 by William Russell Frisbie in Bridgeport, Conn., sold its pies in pans stamped "Frisbie's Pies."

Students at Yale discovered that inverted Frisbie tins flew when tossed. They yelled "Fris-bie!" while playing, similar to a golfer shouting "Fore!"

In 1957, a Wham-O exec who had heard about "Frisbie-ing" modified the spelling for his company's new product.

Wham-O's Frisbee was patented in 1958, the same year the Frisbie Pie Co. closed. Wham-O eventually had a hit on its hands with the Frisbee, but the disc's first year was overshadowed by the public frenzy over another one of the company's products: the Hula Hoop.

Manufacture of Morrison's Pluto Platter was put on the back burner until the company caught up with demand for its plastic-tubing rings.

Morrison's wife, Lu, wrote the Frisbee's original flying instructions, including the immortal words molded on the underside: "Flat Flip Flies Straight." That's also the title of a history of the Frisbee printed in 2006, a book written by Morrison and Phil Kennedy, an author, publisher and longtime Frisbee enthusiast and collector.

Morrison, 87, and Lu divorced in 1969. They remarried and divorced again in 1970. She died in 1987. Franscioni died of a heart attack in 1974 at age 57.


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