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