The concept is simple, but the history of the iconic Frisbee is a bit more complicated. Throwing discs is a tradition that dates back centuries, one that eventually led to the plastic recreational toy that we’ve carried with us to parks and beaches and backyards and tossed with reckless abandon for over sixty years.

The earliest depictions of the Frisbee family occur in bygone Greece where its progenitor, the discus, was thrown as part of the games of the ancient Olympiad. On the more hostile side of the family tree, razor edged shields were thrown by Roman soldiers at troops marshaled by Hannibal. Down through the centuries, the simple principles that govern the flight of a spinning disc have never long been out of the public mind. Bridgeport, Connecticut can claim to be something of Frisbee’s Plymouth Rock as citizens used to toss around pie tins and cookie tin lids from the Frisbie Pie Company back as early as 1871.

But just like everyone else in the family, Frisbee has its own myths and legends, making appearances in the local lore of various communities scattered across the country. One such tale comes out of Yale where people to this day claim that a former alumnus named Elihu Frisbie used to toss pie tins around the campus and shout out his own name whenever an unwary passerby was about to get clocked. Thus, it stands that Frisbie was not only one of the games forefathers, but may also lay considerable claim to the invention of Spring Fever as well. Others make a general claim to the pastime of tin tossing. Children during the Great Depression played catch with virtually any flat, round object, from paint can lids to paper plates. Soldiers at leisure are reported to have played similar games of catch and some whisperings even assert that truck drivers from the Frisbie Pie Company even killed a little time zipping the disc back and forth.

Whatever its familial origins, the iconic disc was invented by Walter Morrison and Warren Franscioni, a pair of entrepreneurs familiar with the pastime. Their childhood recollections brought sharp remembrances of breakable and painful tins. With World War II recently behind the country, a material called “plastic” became suddenly very cheap and very available. The two men disappeared into Franscioni’s garage in San Luis Obispo, California and emerged with a simple plastic disc with an aerodynamic fold-over lip. With the Roswell alien conspiracy on the minds of the public, Morrison and Franscioni decided to name their invention the “Flying Saucer.”

Morrison and Franscioni soon created their own company, Partners in Plastic, or Pipco, and teamed up with the Southern California Plastic Company to flood the market with Flying Saucers in 1948. They even traveled from town to town to model and demonstrate the ease, practicality, and safety of their toy. Before long, Flying Saucers were available for the substantial sum of one dollar at Woolworth’s and Disneyland. In the early 1950s, cartoonist Al Capp even cut a deal with Pipco and featured the Flying Saucer in his Li’l Abner comic strip but later sued the company when he discovered that Saucer packages were being sold with Abner inserts without his permission.

In 1951, Morrison went solo (Franscioni returned to the Air Force) and produced the second incarnation of the Saucer, the “Pluto Platter.” This time, aerodynamic design took a back seat to alien ingenuity as this disc featured a simulated cabin and miniature portholes. Four years later, Rich Knerr and Spud Melin found Morrison peddling his “Pluto Platter” in a Los Angeles parking lot and later bought the rights from him. Knerr and Melin were the founders of a new toy company called Wham-O, whose sole onomatopoeic contribution to the toy world was the wooden slingshot. When Knerr took their new toy east, he found a ready market amongst children who loved to toss pie tins. He also discovered a name anytime one would come near to cracking someone in the head… “Frisbie!”

Altering the name to a more phonetically-friendly “Frisbee,” Wham-O presented their disc to the world as not only a leisure activity, but as a brand new sport as well. By the middle of the 1960s, they were proven right when a football, soccer, basketball hybrid called “Ultimate Frisbee” became a staple of college campuses across the nation. Wham-O continued to produce iconic toys like the Hula Hoop, the Super Ball, the Water Wiggle, but made their name, and their profits, with the Frisbee. In 1994, Mattel bought Wham-O and continued to churn out Frisbees.

Today, several companies make flying discs under various generic names. Discs can be found not only in toy stores, but sporting goods stores with specialized designs. For example, Folf (Frisbee Golf) has drivers and putters and everything in between. It is estimated that the brand name Frisbee has sold over two hundred million discs since its inception, adding to the legacy of legend began thousands of years ago by its ancestors.

So, we’ve shared the detailed history of this iconic toy and now we want to hear from you. Share all of your own memories of throwing these plastic discs with us in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to a timeless toy that has entertained us all for many a decade.

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