Frisbee: The Truth About the Name

Frisbee: The Truth About the Name

Fake News is a popular term on both sides of the political spectrum today. But it's not news that the news 'aint necessarily so. But if it's printed, or broadcast, magically, it is assumed to be true.


The plaque that hung in Dad's office at Wham-O, given to him as a prank.

Long before there was reporting with ideological agendas, journalists were as prone as anyone to assume that what's been printed before was true so they sometimes used news reports as a source. It was a simple time-saving (lazy) cheat. No one ever asked my Dad where the name, Frisbee, came from, and it came from him.

Dad used to say, very somberly, "It isn't what is. It's what people think it is." In other words, perception is reality. 

Spud (L), Rich (front center) Smithsonian Frisbee Day

I've never read an article about Frisbee that didn't fail to connect the name to the Frisbie Pie Company. When I was younger, it bothered me because I knew it wasn't true. It needed to be corrected because the news is supposed to be true, right?

I asked my Dad why he didn't set the media straight. He said there were two reasons. One. It's already out there, like the pillow full of down feathers released into the wind , there's no way to get them back in the pillow case. Two (and this is a marketing lesson). The Frisbie Pie plate is a better story. A better story for journalists and a better story for sales and marketing of Frisbees. People talk about it. Everyone knew it. And that's why he didn't bring it up. It's a good story. 

Spud and Rich, Rose Bowl World Frisbee Championship 1978

The real story? It's not as good. He named it after a character in a *comic strip, "Mr. Frisbie," and changed the spelling so they could trademark it. I used to love laying on the floor with the Sunday funnies. I guess Dad loved them too...


The factory in San Gabriel, CA (1982)


It's kind of stunning to look at these old pictures of the factory. Look at how many Frisbees they sold then! And this was when American companies sold primarily in the U.S. 

Spud Melin was passionate about sports, Rich was passionate about toys. Together they were Frisbee's biggest cheerleaders. They discovered Fred Morrison and his Pluto Platters at the LA County Fair in Pomona in 1955. By 1982, three distinct Frisbee sports had taken hold; Ultimate Frisbee, Guts and Frisbee Golf, in addition to Catch and Fetch (dogs and owners). 

After they sold the company, Frisbee began a slow decline. Without the spunky personalities of Spud and Rich behind the brand, other companies saw an opportunity. Companies like Discraft and Innova, were founded by Frisbee aficionados, devotees of their respective sports; Ultimate for Discraft and Disc Golf for Innova. Today, I imagine their warehouses might look like the picture above.

In the seventies, a number of what Dad referred to as Frisbee "knock-offs came and went. These were cheaper discs made of harder, more brittle plastic, painful to catch and you'd have been afraid to even throw them for the dog, for fear it would shatter into shards in its mouth.

Today, Frisbee still sells to family consumers, although they're harder to find these days. I saw a box of them in Wal-Mart recently for $1.88. The art work looked like they were Frisbees from a video game and when I held one, it felt like the "knock-offs" from the seventies, hard and brittle. To be fair, they do offer more substantial models but even that formulation of polyethylene didn't feel like the old days. But, then, what does anymore?

See the Slip 'N Slide post to learn how retail has cheapened toys.

Side Note: For the first time in my life I played Frisbee Golf with official DGA discs instead of Frisbees. Turns out, they hook left. I was told they all do. Seems like they could have fixed that by now? More power to 'em, though! They differentiated from Frisbee, and built a big market with lots of different models (with supposedly differing flight characteristics?). Personally, I felt more like I was throwing a discus, than a Frisbee, forcing it to fly when it clearly wants to get back on the ground as fast as it can. Probably just family loyalty, but a Frisbee (I still have originals) feel magnificent when you release them, they leap into the air and fight against returning to earth-- exquisite flying machines!



*Comic strips were what kids had before YouTube-- a special section in newspapers, they were hand drawn panel stories. Usually one to 4 panels on weekdays and Saturday, longer versions on Sunday were printed in color (aka: the Sunday Funnies)