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Random Genius: The Frisbee


It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a... pie plate.

On July 8, 1947, the Roswell Daily Record headline read: "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer."

All over the world, a newfound fascination with mysterious objects in the skies was born. The Frisbee was one of them.

That same year, Walter Frederick Morrison was likely relieved to have both feet on the ground. He'd flown 58 missions over Italy during World War II before being shot down and imprisoned in Stalag 13, a notorious German POW camp. Upon returning to California, Morrison met up with another veteran, Warren Franscioni. Both airmen were looking for work.

"I first met Fred Morrison in late 1947," Franscioni wrote in 1973. "He was a struggling World War II veteran trying to build a home for his family... At that time, I was attempting to establish a bottle gas business."

Minyanville's Random Genius The 2 airmen didn't have much luck in the bottle-gas business. But Morrison had another idea. On Thanksgiving Day, 1937, Morrison and his wife Lu passed the time tossing a popcorn lid back and forth through the air. Morrison was convinced that the toy was the key to his and Franscioni's success.

In fact, the flying disc had been around for decades, though in a slightly different form. The Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was known for one thing: Its delicious pies. College students, some of Frisbie's most devoted customers, would toss the empty pie tins back and forth after devouring the pies.

But there was a problem with the tins - one that prevented them from really taking off: They were, well, tin. Besides hurting people's hands, metal pie tins were extremely loud when they hit the ground.

So while Fred Morrison may not have invented the flying saucer, he did have the foresight to build them out of soft plastic. In 1948, Morrison and Franscioni developed the first plastic disc. They called it the Whirlo-Way.

"Hundreds of flying saucers are scheduled to invade San Luis Obispo," the Telegram-Tribune reported. "Two local men have invented a new, patented plastic toy shaped like the originally reported saucer."

Again, people were looking up to the sky: In 1955, Morrison made a new disc called the Pluto Platter. During a demonstration in a Los Angeles parking lot, Rich Knerr and Spud Melin spotted the Platter and liked what they saw. Their firm, the Wham-O toy company, bought the patent from Morrsion and took the disk on the road.

Meanwhile, in New England, college students were still playing with Frisbie's pie pans. After throwing the pans, students would yell out "Frisbie!" Knerr and Melin heard the cries, and a light bulb went off: They'd call their new toy the "Frisbie."

A fateful misspelling (or pending charges of copyright infringement) sealed the deal, and the Frisbee as we know it was born.

And thank God: What would UC Santa Cruz and UVM undergrads do without it?
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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