The inventor of the Frisbee hated its name: Here’s what he wanted instead

(NEXSTAR) – With its aerodynamic attributes and colorful designs, the Frisbee flying disc has delighted generations of Americans.

It really infuriated its inventor, though — at least in one aspect.

Walter “Fred” Morrison, the California native who developed the toy that would ultimately become known as the Frisbee, wasn’t so thrilled when the Wham-O toy company purchased his creation in 1957 and renamed it, he had repeatedly suggested.

“Had I been consulted, I’d have vehemently objected,” Morrison said of the “Frisbee” name in the 2006 book called “Flat Flip Flies Straight!” which he co-authored with Phil Kennedy, as noted by The New York Times.

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Morrison first became interested in developing a toy flying disc after tossing around the lid of a popcorn tin with his then-girlfriend at one of her family gatherings in 1937, as recounted in an online history of the Frisbee by Kennedy. At the time, it wasn’t an unheard-of activity: Kids and college students in New England had already been playing catch with pie tins for decades — and specifically pie tins made by the Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, according to the Strong National Museum of Play, the home of the National Toy Hall of Fame.

American Frisbee enthusiast Jo Cahow demonstrates her skills on Bondi Beach, in New South Wales, during a promotional trip to Australia in Oct. 1976. (Kevin John Berry/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).

Morrison, meanwhile, was on the other side of the country — and he had never even heard of Frisbie pies, Kennedy told the Connecticut Post in 2010.

Instead, Morrison got the idea to try playing catch with one of his mother’s cake pans, which was a little more durable than a popcorn lid. His pan-throwing antics soon captured the attention of an onlooker, who offered to buy Morrison's pan for a quarter — exactly five times what it cost to buy at the store. Sensing an opportunity, Morrison began selling his flying cake pans at the beach.

It should be noted that the cake pans themselves weren’t branded or altered in any significant way. But Morrison had an idea for making them more durable and aerodynamic — an idea he ultimately shelved until 1946, after coming back from serving in WWII, Kennedy explained. That’s when he teamed with his employer and friend Warren Franscioni to begin molding his disc designs out of plastic.

He first called them “Whirlo-Ways,” which was a play on the name of a thoroughbred racehorse that won the Triple Crown earlier in the decade.

By 1948, Morrison and Franscioni changed the toy’s name to the “Flyin-Saucer” in an attempt to capitalize on reports of UFO sightings in the preceding years. But sales had been stagnating, and the two men put their business on the backburner, Kennedy explained.

Revisiting the idea in the mid-1950s, Morrison came up with a new name for his product: Pluto Platters. Coupled with a new design, sales of Pluto Platters in the following years were more successful than previous iterations.

And that’s when Wham-O took notice.

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Wham-O, founded by Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin, had already had success with slingshots and Hula Hoops. So when they approached Morrison with a deal to manufacture his Pluto Platters in exchange for future royalties, Morrison took the deal, Kennedy said.

A young man catches a Frisbee thrown by his at a park in Seattle on March 20, 2020, as officials urge residents to practice social-distancing at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Still, Morrison was none-too-pleased when he learned Knerr and Melin were planning to market his creation as a “Frisbee,” using the name that students at Yale, Harvard, and other Ivy League universities in the Northeast had already adopted (via the Frisbie Pie Company) for their flying pie tins. (Wham-O, meanwhile, claims the toy’s name was also inspired by a comic strip called “Mr. Frisbie.” In any case, it’s likely the spelling was changed to “Frisbee” to “avoid any legal troubles” with the pie company, according to George Sappenfeld, a former Fresno State professor and one of the inventors of Frisbee disc golf.) Morrison later remembered that he felt the Frisbee name was "a horror" and "terrible," he once told the Press-Democrat, a Northern California news outlet.

"[He] thought the name was stupid," Kennedy told the Connecticut Post. “That is, until the royalties started coming in.”

Just a little over a few decades later, in 1982, Morrison told Forbes that those royalties had officially made him a multi-millionaire, according to his 2010 obituary in the Los Angeles Times. In the same Forbes interview, Morrison had also acknowledged that he had ultimately changed his mind about the “Frisbee” name in the years since his deal with Wham-O.

“I wouldn’t change the name of it for the world,” he told the outlet.

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