Today in Aviation History: Frisbees
Contributor: Barry Fetzer
You may ask, “What, Fetzer, does a Frisbee have to do with aviation history?” Well, “Wilber”, I might respond, “Frisbees fly!” And they fly by the millions!
Is there any one of us who has not tossed a Frisbee or its successor, the Aerobie, either backhanded or forehanded? Or tried to ring the Aerobie around your catching partner’s head while he or she stands still? Or catch a Frisbee with your arm up in the air and have it “land” on your pointer finger and twirl around to a stop? Or wish you had a dog that could leap up in the air to grab the discs mid-flight?
Photo courtesy blogspot.com
I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent playing Frisbee golf or just tossing Frisbees or Aerobies to family members, friends, and dogs, competing to see who can get the most accurate throws. Plant one foot and that’s as far left or right or front or back you move go to catch. If your catching partner’s planted foot moves, your toss loses.
Many of us have memories of amazing tricks either seen or done ourselves with these flying discs. Me too! My greatest flying disc “accomplishment” (it happened pre-cell-phone so I have, unfortunately, no record of the event) was a Joe Nameth-esque trick that I “called” (like when Joe “called” the result of the first Super Bowl). Obviously, “Hollywood Joe’s” call was much more consequential than mine.
Our cat was sitting outside in the front yard and I yelled to our kids and their friends who were playing in the street (when kids did that), “Watch me “ring the cat!” I proceeded, from 100 feet or so away, to toss an Aerobie into the air in a high arc with the intent of it reaching its apex exactly above the cat and then descend perfectly to land over and “ring” the cat.
And that’s exactly what happened. The cat was licking its front paws as cats are prone to do, its head down and eyes nearly closed, when the ring slowly, silently, stealthily, descended, perfectly encircling the cat as it touched down in the grass. When the disc touched down, “Stormy” the cat, frightened by this unexpected encirclement, leapt several feet straight up into the air while emitting a bone-tingling shriek, and dashed off onto the front porch of our home.
I just guffawed. The kids stood there momentarily dumbfounded that I had called that maneuver and then loudly complained, “Daaadddy! You scared Stormy!” running to the porch to hug and console the cat.
I couldn’t “ring the cat” again if my life depended on it. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, all-the-stars-lined-up-just-right, quickly-run-out-and-buy-a-lottery-ticket, kinds of experiences.
And Wham-O had one of those all-the-stars-lined-up-just-right experiences, too, on this day (January 23rd) in 1957. “Machines at the Wham-O toy company”, according to History.com, “rolled out the first batch of their aerodynamic plastic discs—now known to millions of fans all over the world as Frisbees.”
Photo courtesy of student.nca.edu.ni
“The story of the Frisbee began in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where William Frisbie opened the Frisbie Pie Company in 1871. Students from nearby universities would throw the empty pie tins to each other, yelling “Frisbie!” as they let go. In 1948, Walter Frederick Morrison and his partner Warren Franscioni invented a plastic version of the disc called the “Flying Saucer” that could fly further and more accurately than the tin pie plates. After splitting with Franscioni, Morrison made an improved model in 1955 and sold it to the new toy company Wham-O as the “Pluto Platter”–an attempt to cash in on the public craze over space and Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs).
“In 1958, a year after the toy’s first release, Wham-O—the company behind such top-sellers as the Hula-Hoop, the Super Ball and the Water Wiggle—changed its name to the Frisbee disc, misspelling the name of the historic pie company. A company designer, Ed Headrick, patented the design for the modern Frisbee in December 1967, adding a band of raised ridges on the disc’s surface–called the Rings–to stabilize flight. By aggressively marketing Frisbee-playing as a new sport, Wham-O sold over 100 million units of its famous toy by 1977.
“High school students in Maplewood, New Jersey, invented Ultimate Frisbee, a cross between football, soccer and basketball, in 1967. In the 1970s, Headrick himself invented Frisbee Golf, in which discs are tossed into metal baskets; there are now hundreds of courses in the U.S., with millions of devotees. There is also Freestyle Frisbee, with choreographed routines set to music and multiple discs in play, and various Frisbee competitions for both humans and dogs–the best natural Frisbee players.
“Today, at least 60 manufacturers produce the flying discs—generally made out of plastic and measuring roughly 20-25 centimeters (8-10 inches) in diameter with a curved lip. The official Frisbee is owned by Mattel Toy Manufacturers, who bought the toy from Wham-O in 1994.”
Even my dad got into the act at his 85th birthday party in September, 2010 in Richfield, Ohio. Fetzer Family photo.