In Memoriam: Frisbee Inventor Fred Morrison

Walter “Fred” Morrison, the original inventor of the Frisbee ® Flying Disc passed away on February 9, 2010 at the age of 90. Morrison’s inventive streak was a family tradition. His father was the inventor of the sealed headlight.

The original idea stemmed from Morrison’s playing around with a popcorn tin lid in the 1930’s.  It flew, but didn’t hover or hold steady as it flew.  He experimented with various shapes of lids, pans and other disc-shaped objects to try to determine the best flying shape. Morrison was then introduced to the science of aerodynamics as part of his training as a bomber pilot in World War II.  After the war, Morrison took advantage of the emergence of plastic and the freedom it gave him to mold any shape he desired.  From a branding perspective, Morrison wanted to capitalize on the widespread public obsession with UFO’s, aliens, and specifically flying saucers. After much trial and error, the “Pluto Platter” was born.

In 1957, the same year Morrison was granted a patent for the Pluto Platter, he was approached by Hula Hoop manufacturer, Wham-O, who purchased the rights to the invention. Wham-O subsequently renamed it the “Frisbee ®” flying disc.

Over the years, additional patents were granted to Wham-O for improvements to the disc that increased its stability and allowed for greater flying distance and accuracy than the original. The inventor most responsible for these improvements was Ed Headrick, who was also influential in the development of Frisbee related sports including disc golf.

The Frisbee Trademark

On college campuses in the northeast, by the late 1950s, a recreational activity had developed that involved the tossing of metal pie tins. Since many of the pie tins used bore the mark of the Frisbie Pie Company, the activity was sometimes referred to as “Frisbie.” And it became customary to yell the word “Frisbie” when throwing to give a warning to bystanders that an object was airborne.

The pie tins tossed in “Frisbie” did not float or hover anything like Morrison’s Pluto Platter, but the existence of the pastime provided Wham-O with a marketing opportunity. Prodigiously, the Frisbie baking company went out of business in the late 1950s.  Wham-O branded its product with the name “Frisbee ®” and simultaneously marketed the disc as a replacement for the pie tins in the existing pastime.

A Salute

Few inventions have enhanced the life experience of so many people in such a positive way.  And among all inventions, the Frisbee, or Pluto Platter, stands alone as a unique and pervasive symbol of leisure and recreation.  It is the embodiment of the very essence of “play.”

Thank you Fred.