Fred Morrison never liked the name “Frisbee,” but he stopped complaining after sales began to soar.
The flying disc was Morrison’s invention, first sold by the Wham-O toy company on this day, Jan. 23, in 1957 — as the “Pluto Platter.” Wham-O changed the name the following year as a misspelled homage to the popular New England pastime of tossing around pie tins from Connecticut’s Frisbie Pie Company.
Fifty years later, Morrison recalled his initial displeasure, telling the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, “I thought the name was a horror. Terrible.”
“Frisbee” was only the latest in a series of brandings for the idea, although it happened to be the one that became a household name. When Morrison first fell for flying discs, it was 1937 and he was 17, tossing the lid of a popcorn container to the girl he would later marry. The future Mrs. Morrison — Lucile Nay, better known as Lu — shared his love of lid-throwing. Soon they upgraded to cake pans, which flew better, as he explained to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2007.
The idea of improving on the cake pan — and perhaps turning a profit — was born the next year, when a stranger saw Fred and Lu tossing one back and forth at the beach and offered them a quarter for it. “That got the wheels turning,” Morrison told the Pilot, “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.”
The business got off the ground with what Morrison called the “Flyin’ Cake Pan.” He retooled the disc’s design and renamed it several times, producing models called the “Whirlo-Way” and the “Flyin’ Saucer” before landing on the “Pluto Platter.”
Although he didn’t quit his day job — first as a carpenter, then a building inspector in L.A. — Morrison was an inventor above all, as his 2010 New York Times obituary made clear. He sold two other creations to Wham-O: the Crazy Eight Bowling Ball and the Popsicle Machine (a mold for freezing juice), although neither quite reached Frisbee-level success. He was a natural salesman as well, and would hawk the Pluto Platter at fairgrounds, demonstrating the disc’s unwavering flight.
The people couldn’t resist. As TIME recounted in a 1972 story about “froupies” — Frisbee groupies — the reason behind their popularity may be a deep one:
And the name didn’t hurt. Although he initially hated calling his toy a Frisbee, Morrison reversed his stance after royalties from its sales made him a millionaire, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I wouldn’t change the name of it for the world,” he said then.
Read about the time the Navy tried to use Frisbees as military tools—and failed—here in the TIME Vault: The Frisbee Fiasco
See Photos of an Early Version of Frisbee on a College Green in 1950
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