The Frisbee turns 50 this year, but Phil Kennedy said the concept is at least 10 years older.
The piece of flying plastic now known as the Frisbee was invented by Walter Frederick Morrison (known as Walt or Fred), who was born in Richfield, Utah, and now lives in Monroe, Utah. Morrison designed the first concept model in 1947. Wham-O Inc. in Emeryville, Calif., first used the Frisbee name in 1957.
Kennedy and Morrison co-authored a book, Flat Flip Flies Straight! True Origins of the Frisbee. Kennedy, who lives in Wethersfield, Conn., still is an avid player at age 60, and a Frisbee historian. His son, Shawn, was the 1988 World Junior Frisbee Champion.
“I started playing with it and can't put the thing down,” Kennedy said. “I grew up with it. It went to college with me. I started competing. I shared it with my son.”
He boasts a collection of about 1,000 Frisbees.
The concept got started with a popcorn can lid. Morrison first flipped a lid in 1937 at a Thanksgiving dinner at his girlfriend's house. Then, “they discovered that cake pans flew even better,” Kennedy said.
Morrison had joined the Army, serving in World War II as an Army Air Corps pilot. When he returned home after the war, he discovered how popular plastics had become. Morrison had an injection molder in California make a disc, dubbed the Flyin-Saucer, in 1948.
In 1955, Morrison designed the Pluto Platter, which looked and performed better than the Flyin-Saucer. The Pluto Platter had four parts to its mold.
Wham-O bought the rights to the design in 1957. By 1964, Wham-O had hired a marketing guru who remolded the Frisbee and called it the Pro-model, Kennedy said. That version was popular with college students on campuses. In the mid-1970s, people started games, canine sports and freestyle Frisbee.
“Things started getting organized as a sport in the 1970s,” Kennedy said. “There's been a lot of experimentation with different types of plastics that will make discs perform the way the user wants them to perform. As plastics have evolved, they've been adapted to various types of flying discs.”
The polymer processing has been adapted to make discs that won't cut the mouths of dogs, for example. And for disc golf, a player carries around different types of discs that perform in certain ways.
Although there's been debate on the origin of the Frisbee, Kennedy said he has proof.
“I have a copy of the original sketch that Fred did in 1946,” Kennedy said. “It's just a drawing that he did. He made three copies of it. That became the blueprint for the first plastic flying disc. That established priority that he had done it.”
Now, if Kennedy could only solve the mystery of where some of the original molds may have gone. Southern California Plastics Co. was the original molder, but Kennedy has been unable to track down some of those molds.
“History's very fragile,” he said. “That's why I wanted to do this book and do it right. But there are still questions I have whose answers I would like to know. I've got questions that nobody can answer, even Fred.”