THE FLIGHT OF A FRISBEEHow many toys do you know that have been used to carry water, fan the flames of dying campfires, used for numerous household projects or to feed your dog?
How about a toy that's been in outer space and tossed off the Great Wall of China? How about a toy that the
military invested thousands of dollars in to develop for combat? It's likely Wham-O's Frisbee discs are one of
the few toys with that type of rich history. Victor Malafronte, original world Frisbee champion in 1974 and
master world champion in 1981, decided it was time to chronicle the history of these popular flying toys in his
book The Complete Book of Frisbee.
THIS STORY WAS WRITTEN ORIGINALLY By Mike Jacquart.
Updates are being made to up-date and expand the content.
- FRISBEES HAVE COME A LONG WAY - Who threw the first disc? No one knows, but it was
certainly long before plastic was invented. Discus throwing was one of the competitions in the first
Olympics held in 776 B.C.
Early discs were made of unwrought bronze and iron. They were made by pouring molten metal into a raw circular
shape. The discs were revered by the Grecians. In fact, the winner of the discus event received the discus as
You've likely heard of James Bond's adversary, OddJob, but did you know 15th-century Indian soldiers used a
lethal throwing weapon called a Chacarani? This item was a flat ring made of steel with a sharpened edge.
They hurled a Chacarani at an enemy by spinning them on their fingers, but they were also thrown like a discus.
- THE GAMES OF FLYING DISC- Discs took on a more leisurely look in 14th century Great Britain,
where the game quoits was developed. This game is believed to be oldest in which a ring or disc is thrown. The object was to land the item on a peg (ever play horseshoes?).
The history of quoits documents improvements such as lighter materials and designs that led this toy to become
less like a ring and more like a flying disc.
Disc and cross was also developed in France around the same period. It was played on a cross-shaped court set up
on grass. A target area was marked by four painted posts. Two teams consisted of two players each. They stood on
opposite ends of each section. The idea was to use the disc to strike the disc of your opponent - keeping him
from entering the target area.
This game was introduced to North America by early colonists and became popular with Native Americans.
Japanese Bird Disc, Hoop and Spear, Kinxe, Skittles and even trapshooting and disc golf are among the other
games that involve some form of disc.
- THE COMMON HISTORY-
No story on the origin of these popular flying discs would be complete without mentioning the Frisbie Pie Company
of Bridgeport, Conn.
In the early 1900s, Frisbie workers made pie tin tossing a regular activity. Since the firm was located near Yale
University, it wasn't surprising that Yale students quickly heard about pie tossing and became interested in the fad. Eventually even students in other parts of the country became interested in flinging pie tins. The word "Frisbie" became synonymous with flying discs.
It should be noted that 1998 marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of the first plastic Frisbee disc. It's
also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Frisbie plant. Frisbye and Frizbie are other variations on the
family name - the variety has been a challenge for historical types!
But this account isn't the only theory on the origin of Frisbees. According to Malafronte, workers in the motion
picture industry tossed bottoms and tops of film canisters around Hollywood movie lots. One can easily envision
such a scenario by studio workers on break.
The Vision of Two Pilots
Whatever story one wants to believe, there is no doubt the important role Warren Franscioni and Walter (Fred)
Morrison played in developing the disc that people would recognize today as a Frisbee. While Morrison is readily
recognized as the inventor of the modern Frisbee, Franscioni's role as co-developer is overlooked, according to
The pair's association in toy history began shortly after World War II when the pilots - recently back from the
war - envisioned the potential that plastic, a newfangled material, could play in Americans' lives.
Morrison developed a prototype flying disc he called "The Whirlo Way." With the country captivated by the Roswell,
N.M. UFO controversy, the pair changed the name of their toy to a "Flyin Saucer." Their newly-formed Pipco company stood for "Partners in Plastic." Today, this rare disc from 1948 can bring $895 in Mint condition.
The introduction of a newer, softer polyethylene plastic in 1953 made the toy much safer. Prior to this
development, it's possible one could have gotten hurt trying to catch the hard and heavy discs!
At first glance, the development of an improved material would appear to have been just the break the ex-pilots needed to improve the sales of their fledgling disc.
It wasn't that easy. Store owners were concerned about the safety and durability of the flying disc. Several years earlier, Morrison and Franscioni had reached an agreement with Li'l Abner creator Al Capp that allowed Capp to use a UFO flying saucer disc in his comic strip. But, according to Malafronte, the toy partners violated the terms of the agreement by using inserts and labels from the strip to market their saucer.
Capp threatened to sue if the pair didn't pay him $5,000 in damages, Malafronte stated in his book. With so many
problems getting their toy off the ground, it was little wonder that Franscioni enlisted in the Korean Conflict,
and Morrison became a building inspector in Los Angeles.
Morrison and Wham-O
Fortunately for Frisbee enthusiasts, the pair's efforts did not end there.
In 1956, Franscioni sought to apply for a patent for his "Aerial Sounding Toy," but he was not able to obtain the
signature of his partner on the application and gave up.
Why was Morrison reluctant to sign the patent? That's not clear, but Malafronte speculates it might be because
Morrison was busy developing his own flying disc - the Pluto Platter. Morrison applied for a patent for his disc
in 1957 and was awarded one nearly a year later for his "Flying Toy."
Around that time, Morrison teamed up with Wham-O co-founders Spud Melin and Rich Knerr. Fortunately for Morrison, the pair had the type of marketing talents that he and Franscioni had lacked.
But even with Melin's and Knerr's abilities, it took the talents of "Steady Ed" Headrick to get this toy to
really take off. Already a standout player, he envisioned improvements to Morrison's toy. By 1964, his
professional model Frisbee disc featured concentric raised grooves that gave the disc increased stability in the
air. In other words, it was more likely to end up where the thrower wanted it to go.
Since 1948, nearly 300 million flying discs - including several thousand different discs by nearly 100
worldwide - have been produced.
But Wham-O's Frisbee discs have dominated the market. Some have been inflatable, while others have come with
parachutes, whistles, and LED lights. There have even been gas-propelled discs.
The more knowledge one can gain about these flying toys, the more likely it is that a rare find won't sail
right past you.
Prices, Types, Vary Widely
Want to get started? Contact one of the Frisbee collectors or dealers listed in Malafronte's book (see accompanying story) or visit flea markets, thrift stores, toy stores and garage sales.
Prices vary widely. A Wham-O Classic Super Pro Frisbee from 1973 is worth $68 in Very Good condition while a Wham-O Super Pro Model from the same year is priced at $50 in Very Good condition. A Wham-O Midnight Flyer from the 1980s is priced at an even more reasonable $18 Very Good.
Not interested in generic Frisbees? How about a Mikhail Gorbachev "Gorbee" Flyer, $10 Very Good and Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, $63.
If more traditional characters and subjects suit your fancy how about one of these possibilities - Raggedy Ann Frisbee, $50 Very Good; Azrak-Hamway Batman and Robin and Superman, $38 each; Flash Gordon, $13; Azrak-Hamway Spider-Man, $38; Disneyland, $25; Azrak-Hamway Mickey Mouse, $43; Star Wars, $23; Michael Jordan, $18; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, $30; Donald Duck, $20; Coca-Cola, $25; Evel Knievel, $15 and Star Trek, $38.
Antique Frisbees are valuable, and some can be very hard to find. They include a hand-crafted metal pie pan with an illuminating light from the 1930s. Since only a few were made, this item can bring $1,000 in Very Good condition and $2,000 Mint.
The Buck Rogers Flying Saucer, probably the first throw-and-catch disc to be marketed in the United States, according to Malafronte, is priced at $313 Very Good and $625 Mint. Pipco's Li'l Abner Flyin Saucer can bring $348 Very Good and $695 Mint. Five thousand of these Morrison-Franscioni toys were made.
Frisbee Accessories - Even Pie Tins
Accessories include a Joe Cool Snoopy Frisbee pin, $25 Very Good; Wham-O $50,000 Frisbee Disc Golf Tournament poster from 1979, $18; Isle Royale Frisbee Society, the first Frisbee shirt, 1968, $50 and a Japanese Frisbee Songs record, $38.
Even Frisbie Pie Company pie pans are collectible. According to Malafronte, there are 40 known pans with prices ranging from $163 for a Perforated Letter F (PLF) pan of average weight in Very Good condition to as high as $1,250 for PLF restaurant-size pan with an off-centered "F" in Mint shape.
- THE SPORTS OF FLYING DISC-