Long Live The Flying Saucer!

Some inventions fly all over the planet. One such thing is the Frisbee, whose inventor, Walter Fredrick Morrison passed away at the age of 90 last week.

Since the 1950s, hundreds of millions of people (and their dogs) have been enjoying the flying discs. The original mass manufacturer, the American toy company Wham-O Inc., has sold more than 200 million of them. In addition, there must have been hundreds of millions of knockoffs made all over the world.

I grew up in Europe. My personal introduction to the Frisbee arrived with Kirk, an American exchange student from Ohio, who stayed with us at my parents’ house. To me as a boy, Kirk seemed very cool and very mature.

Childhood memories: Kirk in my parents' backyard, demonstrating proper Frisbee technique. It's all in the wrist!

Inventor Fredrick Morrison’s family moved from Utah to California when Fred was 11 years old. In 1937, he and his girlfriend Lucile began tossing a large popcorn lid back and forth. It seemed like a fun thing to do at a Thanksgiving party. The fun soon continued at Santa Monica Beach, where the couple switched to tossing a cake pan.

Californians are always quick to pick up a trend. When another beach-goer offered Morrison a quarter for the cake pan, it dawned on him that he had a business. (A cake pan cost just a nickel, thus allowing a hefty margin). Soon, Morrison and his girlfriend were selling cake pans at the beach.

They married in 1939. Soon afterwards, Morrison was off to the war. He served in the Army Air Force as a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot in Europe, was shot down and spent 48 days as prisoner of war.

Back home in 1946, Morrison used his aviator’s knowledge to sketch a more aerodynamical disc, which he called the Whirlo-Way. With experiments and experience, the discs’ shape was further improved and resulted in the Pluto Platter of 1955. Two years later, Morrison sold the patent to Wham-O Inc., also known for the Hula-Hoop a dozen other wacky toys. It was Wham-O that came up with the name “Frisbee” – which Morrison first resented but then (after receiving more than $2 million in royalties) made peace with.

And that’s the story!

I’m not sure what happened to Kirk after he left. But the Frisbee he gave me, made from indestructible plastic, might still be found in my parents’ basement somewhere.



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Journalist and media professional currently based in Los Angeles, California. Focusing on science and technology.