Throwing a disc for a game of catch or the sheer pleasure of watching it fly has probably been around for almost as long as we’ve had arms, but the modern version of what we know today as Frisbee originated in the late 1800s, when college students in New England entertained themselves by tossing empty Frisbie Baking Company pie tins around the quad.
In the 20th century, a man named Walter Fredrick "Fred" Morrison invented the disc that would become the Frisbee. His first foray into the field of flying discs occurred in 1937, when he and his future wife, Lu, sold Flyin' Cake Pans on the beaches of Santa Monica, California, for a quarter. World War II interrupted his entrepreneurship—naturally he became a fighter pilot.
After the war, Morrison and a partner created a Flyin’ Saucer out of plastic. The top of the disc featured six curved spoilers that were supposed to give the disc lift, but Morrison had molded the spoilers backwards, so they only worked when thrown left handed.
Undaunted by the financial failure of the Flyin’ Saucer, in 1951 Morrison unveiled the Pluto Platter, whose center dome was supposed to mimic the cabin of a UFO—it even had port holes. The Pluto Platter flew better than the Flyin’ Saucer, thanks to its larger size and soon-to-be-patented Morrison Slope.
In fact, these nascent Frisbees sold well enough catch the attention of Rich Knerr and A.K."Spud" Melin, who had recently started a company called Wham-O. By 1957, the pair was selling Morrison’s invention as the Wham-O Pluto Platter, and that same year, inspired by those New England college kids, Wham-O trademarked the name Frisbee.
Almost from the beginning, Wham-O positioned Frisbee as an outdoor sport rather than just a toy. To increase the Frisbee’s aerodynamics, in 1964 Wham-O inventor Ed Headrick created a Frisbee that was grooved in concentric circles on its top—this patented improvement became known as the Rings of Headrick. In 1968, the earliest Ultimate Frisbee group was formed at Mount Hermon High School in Northfield, Massachusetts. Later, in 1975, Headrick himself formed the first Frisbee Golf Association. From the 1970s-on, Frisbee championships of one form or another were commonplace.
One of the many things that have endeared people to Frisbees is the fact that they make a great surface for advertisements and logos. Everyone from Coca-Cola to Budweiser produced branded Frisbees. There were Elvis, Beatles, Grateful Dead, and Led Zeppelin Frisbees, as well as Frisbees for fans of the “Star Wars” movies. Superman Frisbees? Of course. Batman? Natch. Even Barbie had a shaggy dog that came with a pink Frisbee in its mouth.