Fred Morrison, a pilot and carpenter most often credited with inventing that most ubiquitous of backyard toys, the Frisbee, died Feb. 9 at his home in Monroe, Utah. He was 90 and had lung cancer.
People have been tossing flat, round objects for millennia, and the origins of the Frisbee have been shrouded in conflicting claims and legend. But it was Mr. Morrison who created the flying disc that was eventually marketed to the world, giving rise to a beloved form of egalitarian picnic entertainment.
Inspiration for Mr. Morrison's flying-saucer toy came in 1937 at a Thanksgiving feast in Southern California. He and his girlfriend, Lucile "Lu" Nay, entertained themselves by tossing a popcorn-tin lid in the backyard. The lid eventually became dented, ruining its aerodynamic potential, and the resourceful couple snatched a cake pan from Mr. Morrison's mother's kitchen.
"That got the wheels turning," he told a Norfolk, Va., reporter in 2007.
He and Nay, whom he eventually married, sold the pans at local beaches and parks. Mr. Morrison was at work on a new and improved flying-cake-pan design when he went off to World War II as a fighter-bomber pilot.
After the war, Mr. Morrison and Nay settled in Southern California. He went to work as a carpenter, but he continued sketching designs for his better-than-ever cake pan. When a series of alleged UFO sightings launched a national craze for all things extraterrestrial, Mr. Morrison took advantage, designing and launching the world's first plastic disc, the Flyin-Saucer, in 1948. But sales sagged.
Undaunted, Mr. Morrison tried again in the mid-1950s. He developed a new mold for a disc he called the Pluto Platter, stamped with the names of all the solar system's planets around its rim.
A young California company called Wham-O, which had made a name for itself with the Hula Hoop, took notice of the Platter's brisk sales. In 1957, Mr. Morrison signed over the Pluto Platter rights to Wham-O in exchange for lifetime royalties.
On a trip to the East Coast, Wham-O executives discovered that young people had their own name for the Platters - "Frisbies," after the Frisbie Pie Co. in Bridgeport, Conn., a bakery whose pie tins had long been popular for tossing on New England college campuses. With a slight change of spelling to avoid trademark trouble, Wham-O's Frisbee was born.
A Wham-O representative said the company has sold well over 200 million Frisbees, which have grown beyond their roots as casual playthings.
Mr. Morrison never liked the Frisbee name. "He thought it didn't apply to anything," Frisbee collector Phil Kennedy recalled in an interview. "It was just a crazy name that didn't mean anything."
This article appeared on page C - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle