Of Frisbees/Flying Discs
The Frisbie Pie Company
In 1871, in the wake of the Civil War, William Russell Frisbie moved from Bransford, Connecticut, where his father, Russell, had operated a successful grist mill, to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Hired to manage a new bakery, a branch of the Olds Baking Company of New Haven, he soon bought it outright and named it the Frisbie Pie Company (363 Kossuth Street). W.R. died in 1903 and his son, Joseph P., manned the ovens until his death in 1940. Under his direction the small company grew from six to two hundred and fifty routes, and shops were opened in Hartford, Connecticut; Poughkeepsie, New York; and Providence, Rhode Island. His widow, Marian Rose Frisbie, and long-time plant manager, Joseph J. Vaughn, baked on until August 1958 and reached a zenith production of 80,000 pies per day in 1956.
In this otherwise simple baking operation we find the origin of the earliest Frisbee! Now 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 Frisbee’s origins: the Pie-Tin School and the Cookie- Tin School, each camp holding devoutly to its own argument.
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 Frisbee 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 prototype was the cookie-tin lid that held in the goodness of Frisbie’s sugar cookies.
Walter Frederick Morrison
Walter Frederick Morrison, the son of the inventor of the automotile sealed-beam headlight, returned home after World War II, finishing his European campaign as a prisoner in the now famous Stalag 13. He worked for a while as a carpenter, but like his father, he had an inventive mind. The time was 1948; flying saucers from outer space were beginning to capture people’s imagination. Why not turn the concern into a craze? As a Utah youth, he scaled pie tins, paint-can lids, and the like. He remembered those pleasurable moments and his mind turned to perfecting the pie tin into a commercial product. First, he welded a steel ring inside the rim to improve the plate’s stability, but without success. In a surge of serendipity, he adopted the child of the times–plastic. Plastic was the ideal stuff for Frisbee, It seems impossible to imagine anything better. And, perhaps, Frisbee is plastic’s finest form.
Initially, Morrison used a butyl stearate blend. He recalls: “It worked fine as long as the sun was up, but then the thing got brittle, and if you didn’t catch it, it would break into a million pieces!”
The original Morrison’s Flyin’ Saucer was his accurate vane model, named for the six topside curved spoilers (vanes). They were designed to improve lift by facilitating the Bernoulli principle, which they didn’t. Curiously, the spoilers were on backwards; that is, they would theoretically work only for a counterclockwise spin.
The Pluto Platter
In 1951 Morrison vastly improved his model and the design, unchanged, served as Wham-O’s legendary Pluto Platter. The Pluto Platter is the basic design for all succeeding Frisbees. Credit Fred Morrison for his farsightedness. The outer third of the disc, his fundamental design feature, is appropriately named the Morrison Slope.
The Morrison Pluto Platter has the first true cupola (cabin in Morrison’s terms). The UFO influence colored the design. The cabin had portholes! The planet ring hinted at an extraterrestrial origin.
Rich Knerr and A.K.”Spud” Melin fresh from the University of Southern California were making slingshots in their fledgling toy company when they first saw Morrison’s flying saucers whizzing around southern California beaches. They were interested in this exciting simple thing that employed the basic principles of physics, primary ingredients in all their products to come. In late 1955, they cornered Morrison while he was hawking his wares and tying up traffic on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Just before he was asked to break it up by the local gendarmerie, the dynamic duo invited his to their San Gabriel factory and made him a proposition.
Thus, fling saucers landed on the West Coast in San Gabriel, and on January 13, 1957, they began to fly out from a production line that has since sent over one hundred million sailing all over the globe.
“At first the saucers had trouble catching on,” Rich Knerr reminisces, “but we were confident they were good, so we sprinkled them in different parts of the country to prime the market.” On a trip to the campuses of the Ivy League, Knerr first heard the term “Frisbee.” Harvard students said they’d tossed pie tins about for years, and called it Frisbie-ing. Knerr liked the terms Frisbie and Frisbie-ing, so he borrowed them. Having no idea of the historical origins, he spelled the saucer “Frisbee”, phonetically correct, but one vowel away from the Frisbie Pie Company.
Today “Frisbee” is a registered trademark of Mattel (www.mattel.com).
From: Frisbee, A Practitioner’s Manual and Definitive Treatise
By: Stancil E.D. Johnson, M.D.
Workman Publishing Company
231 East 51 Street
New York, New York 10022