They Inspire

The Little-Known Story Of How A World War II Pilot Invented The Frisbee

Emilee White

*This article was originally published on Only Players and has been edited for clarity.

In 1937, Walter Morrison spent Thanksgiving Day with his wife tossing a popcorn lid back and forth. This was something the two did to pass the time, it would seem. While tossing a cake pan back and forth on the beach, the couple was offered money in exchange for the pan, and the customers began tossing the pan back and forth themselves. 

"That got the wheels turning, because you could buy a cake pan for five cents, and if people on the beach were willing to pay a quarter for it, well—there was a business," Morrison said to The Virginian-Pilot.

Morrison was in the process of launching his new venture when the United States entered World War II.  He served as an pilot flying a P-47 Thunderbolt before becoming a prisoner of war for 48 days. When the war ended and he returned home, Morrison, inspired by the aerodynamics of his plane, came up with a new design for his flying disc. "Flying discs", as they were originally known, were later renamed "frisbees" in 1957 when Wham-O bought the rights to the invention.

Going to fairs and demonstrating how to use the frisbees, Morrison and his then-business partner overheard someone rebuffing the product, saying wires were being used to make the discs hover. Instead of getting defensive, however, Morrison got creative.

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"’The Flyin' Saucer is free, but the invisible wire is $1’,” was their sales pitch, Morrison said to The Virginian-Pilot. "That's where we learned we could sell these things."

75 years after its creation, the frisbee is still bought and sold all over the world for recreational purposes, like tossing it back and forth just like Morrison and his wife used to do. There’s been a shift in recent years; the frisbee is now viewed as just as important as any football or baseball is to an athlete in the competitive flying disc sports world.

Today, games like Ultimate frisbee and Disc golf have gained notable popularity. Athletes can compete competitively and internationally in flying disc sports as well as reach semi-professional status. Numerous games have been created based on original games like Ultimate and Disc golf, like KanJam. Frisbees’ version of cornhole, the goal of KanJam is to toss a frisbee into a can from a sizable distance away, either through the slot on the front of the can or the top. Flying disc sports have become so popular that there is even a disc sport for dogs, called Canine disc.

Whether you call yourself a flying disc sport athlete, enthusiast, or nothing at all, one thing is for certain, nothing else does versatility like the frisbee.

Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons, Quality Logo Products