Walter ‘Fred’ Morrison was not the kind of man to wait around for something to happen. A carpenter by trade and a natural salesman, he always had an eye for new inventions and it was selling a pie tin to a stranger that would be the inspiration for what would become a worldwide phenomenon.
Back in 1871, William Russell Frisbie was making delicious fresh pies out of his home kitchen in Bridgeport, Connecticut. As the Frisbie Pie website tells us, by 1915 the family had moved their business to a three-story Bridgeport bakery and the Frisbie Pie Company was born.
By 1920, Frisbie Pies were a resounding success, making over 50,000 pies a day, but it was the pie tins themselves that would lead to a new kind of revolution.
Another big player in Connecticut is the Ivy League College Yale, and the Frisbie Pie Company listed Yale as one of its customers. The official Yale College website stakes a big claim in the invention of the Frisbee, alleging that as far back as 1920, students would throw around Frisbie pie tins during their study breaks.
Other legends have it that the whole town of Bridgeport was in on the game and once they had eaten their pie they would throw the pie tins from roofs and shouting “Frisbie!” to warn any unwitting passer-by to watch their heads, much like the golfing shout of “Fore!”.
Fast forward to 1957 and the Wham-O Toy Company (famous as the creators of that other circular plastic toy, the hula-hoop) has just bought the rights to a toy called the Pluto Platter.
As reported by the New York Times, Fred Morrison had been developing the concept since 1941, firstly naming it the “Whirl-o-Way” and then the “Flyin’ Saucer” but it wasn’t until it’s third incantation as the Pluto Platter with its aerodynamic shape and intergalactic raised print that the idea started to catch on. Morrison, ever the businessman, sold the idea to Wham-O for lifetime royalty rights.
Within six months of buying the design, according to the New York Times, the executives at Wham-O decided to try out the popular name used by the kids in Connecticut and renamed the Pluto Platter the Frisbee.
Refreshment In The Workplace (1951)
They removed the intergalactic design and the Frisbee was born, becoming an international sensation and adding a new verb, “frisbee-ing,” to the English language.
When Fred Morrison was interviewed by the New York Times for the 50th anniversary of the Frisbee in 2007, he reported that he wasn’t really sold on the new name for the Pluto Platter when it was first pitched to him. “I thought Frisbee was a terrible name,” Morrison said. “I thought it was insane.”
However, after the resounding success of the Frisbee and the clever business deal made with Wham-O he had a change of heart, jokingly saying, “It just goes to show I am a bad judge of names.”
From hamburgers and pizza to the Frisbee, Yale College seems to have a tradition of claiming “firsts.” We may never be able to pinpoint the exact moment that the Frisbee was invented but realistically, nothing exists in a vacuum, especially not good ideas. It was the right time and Fred Morrison was the right man to bring the Frisbee into the public imagination.
As quoted in Time Magazine, Dr. Stancil Johnson, who serves as Frisbee’s official historian when not practicing psychiatry, states the reason that Frisbee has remained one of the most popular toys through the generations is that they are “the perfect marriage between man’s greatest tool—his hand—and his greatest dream —to fly.”