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The First Flight of the Frisbee ®
The History of the Frisbee
Frisbee picture, adapted from frisbee patent
Patent Drawing for Ed Headrick's Wham-O Frisbee
Photo: Mary Jo Sminkey http://www.dogpatch.orgPhoto: Mary Jo Sminkey http://www.dogpatch.org
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From UC Davis, more explanations of how a Frisbee works.
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Mary Jo's Frisbee ® Dog Page!
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By Mary Bellis

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.

Frisbie Baking Company Empty Pie Plate used as first frisbee typr toyThe 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. 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' was embossed in all the original pie tins and from the word 'Frisbie' was coined the common name for the toy.

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 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 (after his split with Franscioni) 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', listed in the patent. Rich Knerr and A.K. 'Spud' Melin were the owners of a new toy company called 'Wham-O'. Knerr and Melin also marketed the Hula-Hoop, the Super Ball and the Water Wiggle. They pair first saw Morrison's Pluto Platter in late 1955. They liked what they saw and convinced Morrison to sell them the rights to his design. With a deal signed, Wham-O began production (1/13/1957) of more Pluto Platters. The next year, the original Frisbie Baking Company shut down and coincidentally Fred Morrison was awarded a patent (Design patent 183,626) for his flying disc. Morrison received over one million dollars in royalties for his invention.

The word 'Frisbee' is pronounced the same as the word 'Frisbie'. Rich Knerr (Wham-O) 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 ®. Sales soared for the toy, due to 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 stablized flight as opposed to the wobbly flight of its predecessor the Pluto Platter.

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.

Another Great Frisbee Moment: In 1968, the U.S. Navy spends 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 Toy Manufacturers, only one of at least sixty manufacturers of flying discs. Wham-O sold over one hundred million units before the selling the toy to Mattel.

Disc Golf
Ed Headrick, owner of the Disc Golf Association, Inc.® founded the game of Disc Golf in 1976. The sport is played by an estimated two million recreational players in the United States and increasing. Headrick's inventions include the Wham-O Superball that sold over twenty-million units and the utility patent for the modern day Frisbee, which has sold over two-hundred-million units to date. Mr. Headrick led the Advertising program, New Products program, was Vice President of Research and Development, Executive Vice President, General Manager and served as CEO for Wham-O Inc. over a ten year period. The patent drawing at the top of this article is from U.S. patent 3,359,678 - issued to Headrick on December 26, 1967.

Bibliography
Frisbee, A Practitioner's Manual and Definitive Treatise Author Stancil E.D. Johnson, M.D. Workman Publishing Company 231 East 51 Street
New York, New York 10022 July, 1975

Dog & Frisbee Photos: Mary Jo Sminkey© http://www.dogpatch.org
all other artwork ©MaryBellis

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