A story by Judith Ann Schiff in the Yale Alumni Magazine (May/June issue) explains the origin of the word frisbee; I had heard it was named for a pie tin, but Schiff gives plenty of details:

It was 50 years ago this spring that a novelty company called Wham-O started mass production of the famous plastic disc that was called, at first, the “Pluto Platter.” But by the time the discs arrived at the Ivy League, the students already had a game called “Frisbie,” named after a pie tin, and theirs was the name that stuck.

Exactly when Yale students started tossing around tin pans made by the Frisbie Pie Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, isn’t clear. Most histories of the Frisbee, as well as lists of “Connecticut Firsts,” put the date at about 1920. Students would fling the empty pie tins to each other as they crossed the campus and shout “Frisbie!” as a warning, like golfers shouting “Fore!”…

In 1948, a Los Angeles inventor named Walter “Fred” Morrison, hoping to cash in on the rash of UFO sightings, came up with a disc he called the Flyin’ Saucer. In 1955 he and his wife, Lucile, improved the design and renamed it the Pluto Platter. It caught the eye of the Wham-O toy company owners, who took out a patent on behalf of Morrison and began mass production in 1957…

In August 1957, Gay Talese, in a New York Times article on fad toys, wrote, “The Frisbee . . . is now marketed by half a dozen manufacturers under various names, including Flying Saucers, Scalos, Space Saucers or Wham-O Pluto-Platters. Frisbee is strictly the nom de Ivy League.”

The paper version of the article has a photo of an actual pie tin not reproduced online, but you can see one here.


  1. Great article on the origin of frisbee. It also demonstrates the effect of trademark dilution, where a brand name is used to refer to any generic kind of that product (such as Xerox and Kleenex).

  2. Those pie tins must have been Frisbee-shaped indeed; I never frisbeed a pie tin in my life but it turned upside down long before it arrived.

  3. Great history. Thanks for that post.

  4. Regarding the origin of the name Frisbie, which I wondered about, someone posted the following on the Frisbie Family Genealogy Forum:
    “According to Appendix A of the 1984 Frisbie Genealogy (Pg 857), States “..that the name is English and that is was taken from one of two hamlets called Frisby in Leicestershire (pronounced Lester-sheer) in England.”
    Sam Brown
    Benbrook, TX”

  5. Yes, that’s correct, and Frisby (earlier Frisebie) means ‘farmstead of the Friesians’ (from Old Norse Frisir by). One of those hamlets, by the way, is Frisby on the Wreake — love those English hamlets!

  6. Dave Errington says

    Extraordinary. Despite already knowing the outline of the story, and that it concerned metal plates that had contained pies, I still misread the first two occurrences of “pie tin” as “tie pin”.

  7. Rixdollars says

    This being LH, Zackary S B, I would just like to point out, or let you know, that no shire county in England is ever end-pronounced ‘sheer’. Leicestershire is Lestersha, Yorkshire is Yorksha, Lancashire is Lancasha…etc. Not even the BBC announcers of the 30’s went so far as to ‘sheer’ a shire. Would you pronounce Alabama ‘Alaba-marr’ with the emphasis on the last syllable? A small point, no doubt, but an annoying one that separates our similar languages, it seems.

  8. But, Rixdollars, what about the Beatles in that song that begins “I read the news today, oh, boy…”?? They do the “shEEr” pronunciation, which is where most of us Yanks probably got the notion (I know I did) that “shEEr” was the British pronunciation of “…shire”.

  9. Terry Collmann says

    “Sha”? Sheer nonsense … “Shia”, as in “Sunni and …”. John Lennon’s pronunciation of “Blackburn, LancaSHEER” in “A Day in the Life” was partly a product of his Liverpudlian accent and partly the way the stresses fell in the song – the normal stressing, even on the banks of the Mersey, would be LANcashia …
    I wonder how many Frisbee-throwing Friesians on chilly North Sea beaches have realised their homeland is indirectly commemorated in the name of the object they are tossing backwards and forwards?

  10. So the term “Frisbee” didn’t actually originate in Hill Valley in 1885 when Marty McFly used the Frisbee pie tin to knock the gun out of Buford Tannen’s hand? Man, I’m so disappointed.

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