5 minutes

There are few better ways to spend a nice summer day than tossing a Frisbee around with your friends in a park. This popular toy and game is synonymous with picnic goers and college students everywhere. Today, the majority of households in America own one.  However, have you ever wondered how the Frisbee was invented and how it become so popular?

The Invention of the Frisbee

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Like many popular toys, there are competing stories for how the Frisbee was invented. The first says that the game was invented at Yale University in the late 1800s. In nearby Bridgeport, Connecticut, there was a pie factory called the Frisbie Pie Company, owned by William Frisbie. These pies were distributed to Yale and throughout New England. Soon, the Yale students realized that the old pie tins were very aerodynamic and were easy to toss around. As such, tossing a "Frisbie" became a popular pastime. Since these metal pans were heavy and could be dangerous flying into a crowd, the thrower would shout "Frisbie!" each time he threw the tin.

Despite the origins at Yale, the Frisbee as we know it today was invented by Walter Frederick Morrison in the 1950s.  Morrison first got the idea for the Frisbee in 1937 while tossing a popcorn tin with his girlfriend in Los Angeles. Then after serving as a pilot in World War II, Morrison returned home and invented an aerodynamic plastic disk that he called the "Flying Saucer." He began selling his invention at fairs and carnivals, and later renamed it the "Pluto Platter." Then in 1957, toy giant Wham-O bought the rights to the Pluto Platter from Morrison, though he did secure lifetime royalties.

After Wham-O purchased Morrison's invention, these two origin stories collide. In doing market research for the Pluto Platter, they discovered that students at Yale had a different name for the disks--the Frisbie. Thinking that is was a very catchy name, Wham-O renamed the Pluto Platter "Frisbee," changing the spelling to ensure there was no conflict with the pie company.  The Frisbee was a huge success, and quickly became a favorite American pastime.

Frisbee Sports

Today, Frisbee has grown to be more than just a game of catch. Entire sports leagues and games have been created around Frisbees. Two of the most popular are Disc Golf and Ultimate Frisbee.

Disc Golf

Disc Golf started as free-form sport, where players would try to hit various targets by throwing their Frisbees at them. The rules were often made up as people played. Like the Frisbee itself, it is hard to say who exactly created Disc Golf. One of the pioneers of the sport was George Sappenfeld, who was a camp counselor during his summer breaks and invented a variety of Frisbee golf with his campers. Sappenfeld later contacted Wham-O to help organize Disc Golf tournaments in southern California.

From there, Frisbee enthusiast and Wham-O employee Ed Headrick decided to try to standardize the sport. Headrick was also the founder of the International Frisbee Association, Junior Frisbee Championships and World Frisbee Championships. In 1974, he reached out to the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department to set up a permanent Disc Golf Course. Then in 1976, he resigned from Wham-O and established the Disc Golf Association (DGA). Headrick invented the first Disc Pole Hole (the poles used as targets for Frisbees, with metal baskets to catch them), which was used in the first DGA Disc Golf Course in Oak Grove Park.

Disc Golf became a professional sport in 1982 when the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) organized the first World Championships of Disc Golf. The sport has been growing ever since. Today there are over 3,000 Disc Golf courses in the U.S. and over 4,000 internationally.

Ultimate Frisbee

Ultimate Frisbee, or just "Ultimate," is one of the most popular sports on American college campuses.  It is a team sport where opposing teams pass a Frisbee among players to try and get it into the "end zone," similar to American Football. The disc is put into play when one team tosses the Frisbee from their end zone to the other team, just like a football kickoff.

Most people agree that Ultimate was invented in 1967 by a group of students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. Of the group, Joel Silver is credited for introducing the form of "Frisbee Football" he learned at summer camp. While it started as a free-form activity, like many other Frisbee games, the students were challenged to standardize the game, and in 1968 the first official Ultimate match was played at the school. After that, Silver and his friends wrote a standard set of rules for Ultimate, which remain the backbone of the sport today. In 1972, the first intercollegiate game was played between Princeton and Rutgers. The Ultimate Players Association (UPA) was founded in 1979 as popularity grew and more teams formed across the U.S. Today, Ultimate is played across the U.S. and overseas.

One thing that distinguishes Ultimate from other sports is that it is self-refereed. As such, players take sportsmanship very seriously. One way Ultimate encourages players to play fairly is through their "Spirit of the Game" which is described in the Official Rules of Ultimate.  It states, "Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play." Using this basic code of conduct, Ultimate has been successful without any referees.

There are many ways to enjoy playing Frisbee. From active sports to a casual game of catch with your friends, everyone can join in the fun! Frisbee is a particularly great game to play when the weather is nice, so consider taking a disc along on your next trip to your local park!

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Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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