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Frisbee creator Fred Morrison dies

MONROE, Sevier County — For years before and after Utah native Fred Morrison was a prisoner of war in Germany's infamous Stalag 13, he threw all kinds of discs and tried to market them.

Nobody did it better. Wham-O sold more than 200 million Frisbees, Morrison's best invention, before he died Tuesday at his home in Monroe, Sevier County.

Born and raised in Richfield, Morrison remained impressed by his invention's success throughout his life.

"Who could ever imagine this?" he said in 2007. "From such a simple beginning 50 years ago, to have it become what it has become. My goodness, it's amazing."

During a Thanksgiving Day family picnic in 1937, Morrison and his future wife Lu Nay tossed the lid of a popcorn tin back and forth for fun. The tin dented easily so they moved on to cake pans. Soon Morrison was selling "Flying Cake Pans" for 25 cents each on the beaches of Santa Monica, Calif.

After he learned aerodynamics as a bomber pilot in World War II, Morrison created the Whirlo-Way with another former pilot, Warren Franscioni. They changed the name to the Flyin-Saucer to take advantage of the UFO craze in the 1950s.

Morrison added a deeper, thicker rim in 1955 for the "Pluto Platter." In 1957, Wham-O, a hunting-goods company looking to expand into sporting-goods, picked up Morrison's invention and in 1959 registered the name Frisbee.

The toy gave rise to popular new sports like Ultimate Frisbee and Frisbee Golf.

"The world has changed a lot in the past 50 years, but the original purpose of Frisbee has remained constant," Morrison said on the 50th anniversary of his invention in 2007. "Just seeing the smile on a child's face as he or she catches a soaring disc on a summer afternoon in the park, or a grown-up diving headfirst to grab a falling disc, that is what the spirit of the Frisbee is all about."

Utah House Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, honored Morrison Wednesday on the House floor. McIff said Morrison's Frisbee found its way onto fields and playgrounds around the world and came with a set of simple instructions, written by his wife, who died in 1987: "Flip flap, flies straight."

Funeral arrangements for Morrison are still pending.

Morrison was the father of the Frisbee, but flying discs were popular before his birth. In 1871, William Russell Frisbie started a pie bakery in Bridgeport, Conn. In 1915, Frisbie's descendant, Joe, built a larger factory — big enough that his workers had free time and reportedly began throwing empty pie plates around. A few years later catch-and-toss games spread to college campuses in the Northeast.

But it was Morrison who created the iconic plastic model, according to Wham-O company history: "The Frisbee has not undergone many changes since its inception 50 years ago, with the exception of when Ed Headrick added the patented flight ridges to the top of the disc in 1964. This feature radically improved the disc's stability and speed, ushering in a new era of performance-based Frisbee and the creation of dozens of new Frisbee-based competitive individual and team sports."

The Walter Frederick Morrison Disc Golf Course at Creekside Park in Holladay is named for the Frisbee inventor. The course is one of 18 in Utah. Frisbee golfers play year round. Wham-O believes more than 45 million people play Frisbee sports today.

"Not since the invention of the ball," the company history states, "have so many fun games and competitive sports been derived from such a simple object."


Contributing: Carma Wadley