A frisbee (also called a flying disc or simply a disc) is a gliding toy or sporting item that is generally plasticand roughly 20 to 25 centimetres (8 to 10 in) in diameter with a lip, used recreationally and competitively for throwing and catching, for example, in flying disc games. The shape of the disc, an airfoil in cross-section, allows it to fly by generating lift as it moves through the air while spinning.
Flying discs are thrown and caught for free-form (freestyle) recreation and as part of many flying disc games. A wide range of flying disc variants are available commercially. Disc golf discs are usually smaller but denser and tailored for particular flight profiles to increase/decrease stability and distance. The longest recorded disc throw is by David Wiggins, Jr. with a distance of 338.0 meters. Disc dog sports use relatively slow flying discs made of more pliable material to better resist a dog’s bite and prevent injury to the dog. Flying rings are also available; they typically travel significantly farther than any traditional flying disc. There are also illuminated discs meant for nighttime play — they are made of a phosphorescent plastic or contain battery-powered light-emitting diodes or chemiluminescent glowing sticks. Others whistle when they reach a certain velocity in flight.
Lift is generated in the same way as a traditional airfoil. The rotating frisbee has a nearly vertical angular momentum vector, stabilizing its angle of attack via gyroscopic action. If the disc were not spinning, it would crash to the ground. When the disc is spinning, however, aerodynamic torque instead leads to precess about the spin axis, causing its trajectory to curve to the left or the right. Most discs are designed to be aerodynamically stable so that this roll is accurate for a fairly broad range of velocities and rates of spin. Many disc golf discs, however, are intentionally designed to be unstable. Higher rates of spin lead to more stability, and, for a given rate of spin, there is generally a range of velocities that are stable. Even a slight deformation in a disc (called a “taco,” which in extreme cases looks like a taco shell) can cause negative effects when throwing long range. A disk can be checked for these deformations by holding it horizontally at eye level and looking at the rim while slowly turning it.
The term frisbee, often used to generically describe all flying discs, is a registered trademark of the Wham-O toy company. Though such use is not encouraged by the company, the common use of the name as a generic term has put the trademark in jeopardy; accordingly, many “Frisbee” games are now known as “disc” games, like ultimate or disc golf.
Fred Morrison discovered a market for the modern-day flying disc in 1938 when he and future wife, Lucile, were offered 25 cents for a cake pan that they were tossing back and forth on a beach near Los Angeles, CA. “That got the wheels turning, because you could buy a cake pan for five cents, and if people on the beach were willing to pay a quarter for it, well — there was a business,” Morrison told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2007.
The Morrisons continued their business until World War II, when Morrison served in the Army Air Force, flying P-47s, and then was a prisoner of war. Mustered out, Morrison sketched a design for an aerodynamically improved flying disc that he called the Whirlo-Way. By 1948, after design modifications and experimentation with several prototypes, Morrison and business partner Warren Franscioni began producing the first plastic discs, renaming them the Flyin-Saucer in the wake of reported unidentified flying object-sightings.
“We worked fairs, demonstrating it,” Morrison told the Virginian-Pilot. The two of them once overheard someone saying the pair were using wires to make the discs hover, so they developed a sales pitch: “The Flyin-Saucer is free, but the invisible wire is $1.” “That’s where we learned we could sell these things,” he said, because people were enthusiastic about them.
Morrison and Franscioni ended their partnership in early 1950, and in 1954 Morrison formed his own company, called American Trends, to buy and sell Flyin Saucers, which were by then being made of a flexible polypropylene plastic by Southern California Plastics, the original molder. After learning that he could produce his own disc more cheaply, in 1955 Morrison designed a new model, the Pluto Platter, the archetype of all modern flying discs. He sold the rights to Wham-O on January 23, 1957, and in 1958 Morrison was awarded U.S. Design Patent D183,626 for his product.
In June 1957, Wham-O co-founder Richard Knerr decided to stimulate sales by giving the discs the additional brand name Frisbee (pronounced “friz’-bee”), after learning that Northeastern college students were calling the Pluto Platter by that name, the term “Frisbee” coming from the name of the Connecticut-based pie manufacturer, Frisbie Pie Company, which supplied pies to Yale University, where students started the campus craze by tossing empty pie tins stamped with the company’s logo. “I thought the name was a horror. Terrible,” Morrison told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside in 2007. In 1982, Morrison told Forbes magazine that he had received about US$2 million in royalty payments and said: “I wouldn’t change the name of it for the world.”
The man behind the Frisbee’s phenomenal success, however, was Edward “Steady Ed” Headrick (Pasadena, Cal., June 28, 1924 — La Selva Beach, Cal., August 12, 2002), hired in 1964 as Wham-O’s new general manager and vice president in charge of marketing. Headrick soon redesigned the Pluto Platter by reworking the mold, mainly to remove the names of the planets, but in the process, fortuitously increasing the rim thickness and mass, creating a more controllable disc that could be thrown more accurately.
Sales skyrocketed for the toy, which was marketed as a new sport. In 1964, the first professional model went on sale. Headrick patented the new design, highlighting the new raised ridges (the “Rings of Headrick”) that claimed to stabilized flight and marketed and pushed the Professional Model Frisbee and “Frisbee” as a sport. (U.S. Patent 3,359,678).
Headrick, who became known as the father of Frisbee sports, later founded the International Frisbee Association and appointed Dan “Stork” Roddick as head of it. Stork began establishing North American Series (NAS) tournament standards for various Frisbee sports, such asFreestyle, Guts, Double Disc Court and Over-all events. Headrick later helped to develop the sport of disc golf by inventing standardized targets called “pole holes”, that was first played with Frisbees and later with more aerodynamic beveled rim discs. Upon his death, Headrick was cremated, and, as requested by him, his ashes were molded into memorial discs and given to family and close friends and sold to benefit The Ed Headrick Memorial Museum.
Enthusiasts founded the International Frisbee Association in 1967, and the next year, the Frisbee Golf Tournament began in Kalamazoo. Also in 1967, some New Jersey teenagers invented Ultimate Frisbee, a game that is still played enthusiastically today. All this attention for Frisbees certainly made it a hot commodity with sales reaching 100 million Frisbees by 1994 and later in 1998 the Frisbee was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.