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Who Invented Frisbees? The History of The Flying Disc

Alyssa Mertes

Published: July 23rd, 2020

People love to have something to play with, and no matter what their age, nothing is more fun than tossing a Frisbee. It's a must-have for college campuses, disc golf tournaments, and playing fetch with your dog.

The Frisbee has been a thing since ancient Greece. Let's get into its history and talk a little bit about pie tins along the way!

Quote

This inexpensive and simple genius of a toy has become as all-American as baseball and hot dogs. Throwing a Frisbee is a natural and spontaneous joy.

–Victor A. Malafronte , World Frisbee Champion and author of The Complete Book of Frisbee

Hour Glass

History of the Frisbee Timeline

College students started the flying disc fad by tossing pie tins to each other. By the late-50s, Frisbees were officially trademarked by Wham-O Toys and became popular for all ages.

  • 1871

    Frisbie pie company http://www.museumofplay.org

    The Frisbie Pie Company served their delicious slices in these aluminum tins. The pies were well-loved by Yale students as they could be both study snacks and a fun way to spend time on campus.

  • 1947

    Flyin saucer https://atomicscout.wordpress.com

    Walter "Fred" Morrison and his business partner Warren Franscioni sold "Flyin-Saucers" at beaches, parks, and community fairs. Woolworth’s was one of the first retail stores to sell the product at only $1 each.

  • 1950

    Flying discs worthpoint.com

    Morrison and Franscioni attempted to boost sales by printing characters from the "Little Abner" comic strip on their flying discs. Eventually the comic’s creator sued their company for violating the agreement.

  • 1953

    Space saucer Source: https://atomicscout.wordpress.com

    Bill Robes brought competition to the marketplace with Space Saucers. These flying discs didn’t dent as easily or cut up hands when they were tossed through the air.

  • 1957

    WhamO morrison Dennis McLellan, The Los Angeles Times, February 2010

    Wham-O acquired the rights to Morrison’s invention and changed the name to "Frisbee." It didn’t take long for these flying discs to become huge hits, making well over $100 million in their lifetime.

  • 1964

    Ring of headrick Source: atomicscout.wordpress.com

    Ed Headrick, an employee at Wham-O, unleashed a new disc with grooves at the top that were referred to as Rings of Headrick. These Frisbees were the first professional models as they improved stability and speed.

  • 1968

    Ultimate Frisbee Source: time.com

    Joel Silver and his high school friends started playing Ultimate Frisbee in a parking lot. Five years later, it became an official sport that has since been played in colleges around the country.

  • 1975

    Glow in the dark Source: vintagefrisbees.wordpress.com

    Wham-O jumped on the glow-in-the-dark trend with their Fastback Frisbee. At this point, Frisbees were flying off the shelves meaning this was an extra popular gift.

  • 1976

    disc golf Source: snowbasin.com

    Disc golf was invented by Ed Headrick, the same man who added ridges to the Frisbee. This sport is a lot less athletically intense than Ultimate Frisbee.

  • 1980s

    mickey mouse Frisbee Source: https://www.etsy.com

    Once Frisbee had been established as a sport, popular characters like Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man started showing up on the exterior. This was a great way to promote their shows and movies.

  • 1980s

    Frisbee Source: wrightlife.com

    As the Frisbee fad was in full gear, many bands began to advertise with these popular toys. The Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin were a couple that got additional exposure with customized Frisbees.

  • 1980s

    Mcdonalds Frisbee Source: picclick.co.uk

    Companies took notice of how popular Frisbees were with all age groups. Good Year, Oreo, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and many others offered flying discs to promote their respective brands.

  • 1980s

    Flying discs Source: qualitylogoproducts.com

    Flying discs were crafted from materials other than hard plastic. Polyester became popular as it was easy to fold, had a high tenacity, and was waterproof for the pool and rainy days.

  • 1994

    Mattel Frisbee Source: amazon.com

    Wham-O Toys was bought out from Mattel, allowing other companies to create Frisbees. Today, an estimated 60 manufacturers exist in the United States.

  • 2000s

    LED Frisbee Source: niteize.com

    LED Frisbees emerged as a popular way to host games in the dark. These discs use light-emitting diodes that create a flashy spectacle in the night sky!

  • 2006

    3D military Frisbee Source: http://www.technovelgy.com

    The U.S. military reportedly worked on 3D Frisbees that functioned as surveillance cameras. These lethal flyers were meant to detect enemies and fire from upper story locations.

  • 2014

    adobe Frisbee Source: https://artsandactivities.com/

    High school students used graphic design software, like Adobe Illustrator and QuarkXPress, to create designs on Frisbees for a class project. This shows how updated technology is still used on classic objects.

  • 2018

    WhamO logo Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

    Todd Richards, a signed free agent for the San Francisco 49ers, revived the Wham-O name. The new company is located in California and employees have "Frisbee Fridays" in the parking lot.

  • 2018

    disc dog challenge Source: http://frisbeeborders.nl/

    Germany hosted the Disc Dog Challenge, which featured a number of canines catching Frisbees. Around 60 participants from seven different countries competed in the event.

Did you know?

Ashley Whippet is a world famous Frisbee-catching dog who has ice cream shops named after her in Connecticut.

Discobolus statue Source: https://onartandaesthetics.com/

What Are Discuses?

A discus is a heavy disc thrown for sport by ancient Greeks. These discs were made of unwrought bronze and iron and weighed roughly five pounds. They were created by pouring molten metal into sand.

Greek poet Homer first mentioned throwing a discus in The Iliad around 700 BC. Close to 100 years later, discus throwing became part of the first Olympic Games in Athens.

discobolus statue Source: https://onartandaesthetics.com

Those Greeks who were great at throwing discuses were thought of as having godlike powers. For example, the iconic statue pictured here is known as Discobolus. It was crafted from bronze and shows the glory man can achieve with a good disc toss.

Throughout time, many other games were developed that used flying discs similar to discuses. These games include:

  • French Flag Disc and Cross that was developed in France in the 14th century.
  • Discs Quoits, which was the earliest version of horseshoes.
  • hoop and spear Hoop and Spear, a game played in Native American villages.

To this day, discus and some of the sports that followed are still played around the world!

Did you know?

The longest discus toss on record was performed by Phayllos of Croton, a Greek athlete and naval commander.

When Was the Frisbee Invented?

Before there was an official Frisbee, people would spend their days tossing pie tins, cookie lids, or cake pans to one another. William R. Frisbie gave these discs their name in 1871 when he started the Frisbie Pie Company.

Frisbees may have never taken off if it weren't for the Frisbee Pie Company. This bakery was a mere 25-minute drive from Yale, and the students would bring their pies back to campus. Students would play catch with the tins after finishing their slices of pecan pie or lemon meringue. The entire campus could hear them yelling "Frisbie!" as a heads-up call to those passing by, similar to the "Fore!" you hear from golfers.

Old Frisbee https://www.museumofplay.org/

Who would have thought avoiding study time by tossing a pie tin around would create an entirely new pastime? The Frisbee may never have been created if it wasn't for college students and their love of pie.

Old Frisbee https://www.museumofplay.org/
Did you know?

Ed Headrick asked for his ashes to be turned into plastic flying discs so that he could end up as the "Frisbee that accidentally lands on someone’s roof." Upon his death, his family was exploring ways to honor that wish.

Who Invented the Frisbee?

Walter "Fred" Morrison and his future wife Lucille threw a cake pan tin around during a Thanksgiving gathering. Shortly after, they were inspired by this idea and went on to create the first official Frisbee in 1947.

newspaper Source: Michael Liedtke, The News Journal, Delaware, June 17, 2007

AAt the time, the Frisbee wasn't yet known as a "Frisbee." Walter and Lucille marketed them as "Flyin’ Cake Pans" and sold them on the beaches of Santa Monica, California. The cake pans cost only 5 cents, but beach goers were willing to shell out a quarter to be entertained by these high-flyers.

newspaper Source: Michael Liedtke, The News Journal, Delaware, June 17, 2007
Quote Icon

Disc play is good exercise. It’s fun, can be easy or challenging, and doesn’t cost much. Best of all, it’s a sport you can enjoy with your favorite dog.

– Charlotte Foltz Jones, author of Mistakes That Worked

When Did Frisbee Become Popular?

In the 1950s and 60s, Frisbees became super popular. Wham-O Toys stumbled upon Walter Morrison’s flying discs and made an offer to take over his invention.

Morrison handed over all his rights to his invention in exchange for quarterly checks. From there, Wham-O was free to do as they pleased with the flying discs, including marketing them under a new name: the Frisbee.

Before Wham-O was bought out by Mattel they had reached over $100 million in sales and sold an estimated 300 million discs.

Wham-O Frisbee logo

Check out this video, which shows an early ad for Wham-O’s Frisbee!

When Was Ultimate Frisbee Invented?

In 1967, a high school student in Maplewood, New Jersey named Joel Silver organized the first Ultimate Frisbee team. They challenged the student council to a game in the parking lot. From there, students worked on fine-tuning their game and created an official rulebook.

Five years later, Ultimate Frisbee was recognized around the world. The first college game ever played took place between Rutgers and Princeton on November 6, 1972. Today, the sport is still growing and becoming more popular. In fact, Ultimate Frisbee was recognized by the Olympic committee in 2015.

Group of people
Quote

Frisbee enthusiasts seem to be of two kinds: those who play with the disc just for pleasure and those who create competitive games, organize teams, and compete for championships at festivals and tournaments.

Richard F. Bauerle, , author of The Origin of Frisbee and Related Words

Did you know?

Frisbees outsell baseballs, basketballs, and footballs combined.

How Companies Advertised with Frisbees

Frisbees were all the rage by the mid-1970s and companies took notice. These flying discs were the perfect way to advertise since everyone loved them and they brought excitement to events.

Popular brands like Coca-Cola, Budweiser, and Frosted Flakes printed their logo on custom Frisbees. These were often used or given away at Ultimate Frisbee competitions. The winning team would receive a commemorative Frisbee to take home with them as a souvenir of the event. The disc would be printed with the sponsoring company’s logo.

Kellog Frosted Flake Source: http://www.marvinsflyingdisccollection.com/wham-o.html
Did you know?

The Frisbee was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Stats for Success

Stats 1 icon

If you plan on giving away something for free, 39% of people prefer it to be an entertaining item like a Frisbee.

Stats 2 icon

44% of companies order Frisbees with their logo for their picnics.

Stats 3 icon

There are 700 disc golf courses in 15 countries across the world.

The Bottom Line

Everybody loves a good Frisbee. Your kids play with it at the park, adults compete in tournaments, even your dog likes catching one during a game of fetch. There’s really no better way to send your spirits soaring!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

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Marvin's Flying Disc Collection. (2018). Frisbee Museum. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from http://www.marvinsflyingdisccollection.com/wham-o.html

Winner, T. (2018, January 5). A Flick of the Wrist: Flying Discs and Frisbees. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from https://www.museumofplay.org/blog/2018/01/a-flick-of-the-wrist-flying-discs-and-frisbees

New England Historical Society. (2018). The Sweet New England History of the Frisbee. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/the-sweet-new-england-history-of-the-frisbee/

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Connecticut History. (2018). A Pie Tin's Soaring Sales. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from https://connecticuthistory.org/a-pie-tins-soaring-sales/

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