Walter Fredrick Morrison was playing with a metal cake pan in the 1950s when he had an idea. That idea became the Frisbee, an iconic toy that has sold almost 200 million units world wide.
According to Frisbee historian Phil Kennedy, Mr. Morrison was taken with the cake pan’s ability to hover briefly and travel for long distances on a light toss, kept in the sky by its rotation. Frisbees generate lift by accelerating the upper airflow around them in order to generate a pressure difference that gives rise to a lifting force. The small ridges near the leading edges of the toy act as turbulators, reducing flow separation by forcing the airflow to become turbulent after it passes over the ridges.
Morrison called his version of the disk “Pluto Platter” – a name and design he sold in 1957 to Wham-O toys. Wham-O General Manager and Vice President Ed Headrick redesigned the disks to make them more controllable and accurate and branded them as “Frisbee.” The name Frisbee was adopted because it was the nickname given to the platter by college students in New England. A name that came from the Frisbie Pie Co, a local bakery whose empty tins were tossed around in the same way that the Pluto Platters were.
Headrick had himself cremated on his death and his ashes were molded into memorial Frisbees and given to family and close friends. It seems unlikely that Morrison, who died of cancer today at age 90, will follow suit.
There are hundreds of different Frisbee’s available today – everything from disc’s that glow in the dark to glider disks made from thin fabric to disks that whistle while in flight to disks designed specifically for dogs.