2006-08-30 / Features

Frisbee Still Flying High Despite Controversy

The history of the Frisbee has been written about many times over the course of the last 40 to 50 years. But according to

Phil Kennedy, a Frisbee historian and

collector, who also helped Walter F. "Fred " Morrison, inventor of the first Pluto Platter, put together a book called Flat Flip Flies Straight, it seems that some articles do not present an entirety accurate picture of how and where the Frisbee came about. Morrison mainly focuses on Jeff McMahon's article, "Where The Frisbee First Flew". To avoid any further misunderstandings, Morrison decided to write a book to ensure that the public knows the real story of the Frisbee's creation.

Kennedy, asked by Morrison to be interviewed on his behalf, explained the discrepancies. "My feeling is that very early articles treated flying discs merely as toys and therefore looked to create a 'cute' or 'fun' beginning, particularly for kids. For example, while we now have evidence that some forms of flying disc-shaped objects (like cookie tin covers) were referred to phonetically as "frisbies, frizbees, etc." in the Eastern U.S. during the 1940s and '50s, and that name may or may not have come from the Frisbie Pie Company's tins, it's always been assumed that the idea for the first plastic flying disc originated with Frisbie Pie tins. That's totally wrong!"

According to Morrison, the idea of the Frisbee came to him and his late wife, Lucile Morrison, during a Thanksgiving dinner in 1937 in California. Apparently Lucile's brother-in-law first launched a popcorn can lid into flight. Children and adults alike discovered the joy and fun the lid caused. When the popcorn can lids couldn't be used any longer, the Morrison couple looked for other objects to satisfy their craving for flinging disc-shaped objects.. These other objects included pie pans and later cake pans. Paul and Lucile Morrison started selling them on the beach for 25 cents each. They realized they had a potentially profitable business, so Morrison went for advice to his father, who had manufacturing experience. Work on a die was started, but due to lack of money and the beginning of World War II, the idea was put on hold. According to Morrison, who became a pilot, that was the best thing that could have happened.

Pictured: Fred Morrison and Phil Kennedy. A Flyin' Saucer, an early version of the Frisbee. Flat Flip Flies Straight by Fred Morrison and Pictured: Fred Morrison and Phil Kennedy. A Flyin' Saucer, an early version of the Frisbee. Flat Flip Flies Straight by Fred Morrison and The war didn't make Morrison forget about his project. In 1946 he designed the "Whirlo-Way". Though he was still dreaming about getting his design off the ground, real life caught up with him. He had to make a living to provide for a family of four. Morrison was a construction worker. His family lived in a tent while he built a house for himself, Lucile and their children. He worked with Franscioni and Davis, a local butane supplier, whose product helped make the tent nice and cozy.

In his book Morrison writes: "It's inconceivable what the future would have held for the Morrisons if Warren Franscioni hadn't had gas."

Warren Franscioni was the sole sponsor of the disc. In 1947 Morrison and Franscioni discussed a partnership where everything would be split evenly between the two partners. That same year, PIPCO, their new company, was founded. Southern California Plastic Company would provide the new plastic discs.

For several years Morrison and Franscioni demonstrated and sold the disc, renamed the Flyin' Saucer, at fairs. Morrison, however, soon realized that the money they were making from the Saucer just wasn't enough and certainly wasn't worth being away from the family, so he called it quits.

"On a February day in 1950, we shook hands and wished each other the best," Morrison wrote. "The relationship was over. I never saw nor heard from Warren Franscioni again."

Morrison continued his career as a construction worker. There wasn't always enough work, which caused Morrison to rethink the idea of selling Flyin' Saucers at fairs again. The Morrisons and Lucile's sister and her husband, the Hoornbeeks, in 1954 began to work those fairs again, this time with a lot more success.

In 1955 Morrison entertained the idea of designing something similar to a Flyin' Saucer,

which he later called the Pluto

Platter. Rainbow Plastics in El Monte, California was to manufacture the discs. Once the idea was realized the couples continued to demonstrate the Pluto Platter. Then the Pluto Platter was discovered by Rich Knerr and Spud Melin and their fledgeling Wham-O toy company.

Jeff McMahon wrote in his article: "Morrison was demonstrating his Pluto Platter in a Los Angeles parking lot in 1955 when Rich Knerr and Spud Melin spotted the unusual flying object." According to Morrison's book, however, McMahon didn't quite get the facts right. In 1956, by Morrison's account, he and Paul Hoornbeek decided to make extra cash by demonstrating the Pluto Platter in a Los Angeles. parking lot. They were approached by a total stranger, who referred them to Wham-O, a toy manufacturing company. A few days later, Morrison contacted Knerr and Melin, who expressed their interest in adding the Pluto Platter to their line. It later turned out that t they had, in fact, seen the disc at the 1956 Pomona Fair.

Knerr and Melin were determined to take on the promotion and sales of the Pluto Platter and the Morrisons sold their rights to the Pluto Platter to Wham-O. It was a long process and the promotion was disrupted by the invention of the Hula Hoop, but eventually the Pluto Platter, which was renamed the Frisbee, became the toy most sold in the history of toy making.

Morrison is credited with inventing the Frisbee. In some accounts, however, Warren Franscioni is said to have been taken advantage of by Morrison. Morrison says of the collected Franscioni records: "The documents provided a detailed, extensive history of Franscioni's continued efforts to make something of the Flyin' Saucers." (Copies of the documents are provided in the book).

Coszette Eneix, Franscioni's daughter, couldn't be located to be interviewed for this article. In McMahon's article, however, Eneix is quoted as saying: "Other people were asking my father to do something-stop him [Morrison], sue him, stop him, but we were in South Dakota. My father was getting his career going again as an officer in the Air Force, and that was taking a lot of his time. And I think my mom was leery of putting more money into this thing."

A potential lawsuit against Morrison by Eneix has also been mentioned. When asked why Eneix feels so strongly about the past, Kennedy, who was interviewed on Morrison's behalf, said: "I don't know. Fred asks those sorts of questions in Chapter 44 and on pages 205-206. Part of it may be that she seems to have chosen to accept her father's written accounts without question. As a devoted daughter, that's certainly understandable, but Fred now has shown that some of the letters contain falsehoods which Franscioni may have thought of as harmless self-promotion at the time, but are now important to correct."

He added: "Since there was nothing legally binding on the original Flyin' Saucer (patent or otherwise), and Fred's Pluto Platter was a completely new and independent product, it's hard to fathom what any competent lawyer would consider suitable to base a case on or what court would accept it."

Whatever legal entanglements there may be, the Frisbee is a fun toy to have and will continue to sell. A more detailed history of the Frisbee is found in Flat Flip Flies Straight by Fred Morrison and Phil Kennedy and at their Web site, www.FlatFlip.com.

Return to top

Copyright 1999-2014 The Service Advertising Group, Inc. All rights reserved.