In Memoriam

[ Posted Thursday, February 11th, 2010 – 16:52 UTC ]

This column is in mourning today. For we have just learned of the passing of Fred Morrison, who died two days ago in Utah. Mr. Morrison was an inventor, and while his name is not generally known, he gave the world a simple device which has been enjoyed by millions ever since. Fred Morrison gave us the Frisbee.

The Washington Post solemnly noted Mr. Morrison's passing today:

The origins of the ubiquitous Frisbee, friend to picnicgoers and college kids everywhere, are shrouded in legend. But the disc's lineage can in fact be traced back to one man, Fred Morrison, who died Feb. 9 at his home in Monroe, Utah. He had been ill with lung cancer.

Mr. Morrison got the idea for a flying-saucer toy in 1937 when, during a family Thanksgiving feast in southern California, he and his girlfriend entertained themselves by tossing a popcorn-tin lid back and forth in the backyard.

The lid eventually dented, ruining its aerodynamic potential. Mr. Morrison experimented with a sturdier cake pan, which he and Lucile sold on weekends at beaches and parks in the Los Angeles area.

After serving as a fighter-bomber pilot during World War II and enduring 48 days as a POW in a German stalag, Mr. Morrison went to work as a carpenter. But he never lost sight of his flying-cake-pan entrepreneurial dreams.

In the 1950s, he designed an aerodynamic disc made of plastic. The nation was then caught up in UFO fever; Mr. Morrison called his invention the Pluto Platter and marketed it at fairs in California by dressing up as an astronaut.

Hula Hoop manufacturer Wham-O Mfg. took notice of the Pluto Platter's brisk sales and bought the rights in 1957, renaming it "Frisbee" when an executive noticed Ivy Leaguers' penchant for tossing around pie pans from the Frisbie Pie Co.

Mr. Morrison earned seven figures in royalties. And the world was never quite the same.

When I was growing up, our family had an original Pluto Platter. It had the names of the planets in raised letters around the edge of it. I didn't realize at the time that it was an "original" Frisbee, and by the time I did it was in such poor shape no collector would have been interested in it. This is because we used it so often.

Later, in my teenage years, Frisbee technology really took off, complete with glow-in-the-dark and lighted models for play at dusk. My favorite, I must admit, was the 150 gram model, which worked wonderfully well for both freestyle play and Frisbee golf (later renamed Disc Golf, to avoid legal hassles).

Frisbees, like most Wham-O products, were originally fad toys. America fell in love with them, and then relegated them to dusty shelves in the garage, for the most part. But on college campuses across the land, on beaches and in parks in every state of the Union, the Frisbee has never quite gone away, as each new generation discovers the joy of simple aerodynamics and healthy exercise. The Frisbee has not only made its mark on our culture, it has withstood the test of time. And, while there are plenty of other inventors out there who have come up with other things which have improved our lives in a more significant fashion, I felt Fred Morrison deserved being honored today, if only for the many hours of happiness his brainchild has given to me and my friends.

So it is with a heavy heart indeed that we salute Fred Morrison and his Pluto Platter, as he metaphorically floats off -- spinning gently, on the lightest of breezes -- into the sunset.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “In Memoriam

  1. [1] 
    Herm71 wrote:

    There's an alley/street a block or so from my house called Frisbee Lane. And it's official even; has a City-sanctioned street sign, public works logo and all! R.I.P Mr. Frisbee

  2. [2] 
    Hawk Owl wrote:

    Hate to give away my age (otherwise known as my ancientness) but I remember playing with a Frisbee
    in Ann Arbor, back in the days when we'd skip it off sidewalks for a carom shot that chewed up the edges of the plastic "Pluto Platter." It was easier than it looked and could be quite precise.

    Twenty years later I wandered into a group of college kids, caught one of their throws, and was greeted with curiosity, if not wonder, when I returned it with such a throw.

    In return, I was intrigued how the throwing style had shifted away from a backhand snapped with your
    forearm across the belly to a sidearm toss which felt
    awkward to me, but was obviously just as accurate as mine had ever been.

    There's a life lesson in there, I suspect, but it amounts probably to nothing more than "la plus ca change, la plus ca meme chose," to quote my old French Prof.

    Which is why politics and Frisbee seem so similar, perhaps, . . . save that I suspect our current political players could never manage a Sherman Anti-Trust Act these days. Like Frisbee players, they just don't have the balls to make it happen.

  3. [3] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    What I always found interesting is that the company which makes the Frisbeeā„¢ insists on it being capitalized.

  4. [4] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Hawk Owl,

    The sidearm toss I think comes from Ultimate players - at least everyone I know who plays Ultimate throws this way and I'm astonished at their accuracy.

    Oddly enough, I can throw a disc golf disc this way, but am unable to throw a regular Frisbee with anything close to accuracy.

    The other thing that is strange is that disc golfers refer to this type of throw as backhand. I find it irregular because it's the same motion as a tennis forehand - for rightees, you throw from your right side. But in disc golf a forehand is to throw across your body from the left - similar to a traditional Frisbee throw.

    Now that I've said more than anyone would ever care to want to know on this subject, I'll sign off with a RIP Fred Morrison!


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Hawk Owl -

    That experience with what I have to accurately call "my dad's" Frisbee taught me one important lesson -- only do "skip throws" with OTHER peoples' Frisbees...


    The sidearm throw is kind of showy, in my opinion. I never liked it, because it required a whole different set of finger callouses than the across-the-body throw, which I much prefer for both accuracy and distance. I can do a decent sidearm, but choose not to. There's also the upside-down throw, and the boomerang throw.

    To me, it's all about style points making the catch, not the throw, personally.

    Osborne -

    Yeah, but it's hard to get annoyed at a company called "Wham-O" (heh). Actually, I think they got bought by Mattel years ago, but I'll always think of them as Wham-O, personally. This is why they changed it to Disc Golf, to avoid the trademark/copyright problems. But again, I'll always think of it as Frisbee Golf, personally. There was a course near the high school I "attended" and I can remember plenty of well-spent days out on the course instead of sitting in a classroom... sigh.

    akadjian -

    "more than anyone would ever care to want to know on this subject" does not compute. I'm sorry, but this collection of words is meaningless to this column. Heh.

    For instance, the 150g model was revolutionary not only for its weight (heaviest at the time, until they unveiled the B-52 of Frisbees, the 165g), but for the fact that it had concentric areodynamic ridges on the UNDERSIDE of the disk, as well as the standard ones on top. Man, those things float forever...



  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Something I forgot to include in this article -

    I think it's time to make Frisbee an Olympic sport. We could have team (Ultimate) and freestyle events, even. Hey, if rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming (and even diving), ice dancing, biathalon, ping pong, and beach volleyball all qualify, I simply don't see a problem with adding Frisbee, personally.



  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    In past years I played ultimate quite religiously. It's a great worldwide sport, invented at my old high school in 1968, and I agree it should absolutely be in the olympics. one of the main stumbling blocks to this is the sport's refusal to allow referees, except as passive "observers," who make decisions when requested by the players. Line calls are one thing, but fouls, travels and other subjective elements remain the province of the "Spirit of the Game."

  8. [8] 
    Moderate wrote:

    I think it's time to make Frisbee an Olympic sport. We could have team (Ultimate) and freestyle events, even. Hey, if rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming (and even diving), ice dancing, biathalon, ping pong, and beach volleyball all qualify, I simply don't see a problem with adding Frisbee, personally.

    Many of those events are precisely why I don't really watch the Olympics. Making Frisbee an Olympic sport might just get me to watch it.

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