Mitch Albom’s most recent article mentioned a name that I instantly recognized — Richard Knerr?
As the article stated, it was he and Arthur “Spud” Melin who made their fortune inventing and mass producing outdoor summer games and toys under the banner Wham-O. My real only interest as I delved into the reading was what he would say about the Frisbee. I was eager to see if Mr. Albom would mistakenly claim that these two business men “invented” the plastic flying disc called the Frisbee.
Instead he said that Wham-O “introduced” the Frisbee in 1957. For the record, the plastic flying disc was invented by another Californian by the name of Fred Morrison. Morrison first called his invention the Flyin-Saucer (1948). He would retool the saucer, (the term saucer or flying saucer was a generic term just like we use the term Frisbee today), and renamed it the Pluto Platter (1955). It was this toy that Morrison marketed at fairs and which caught the interests of Knerr and Melin.
They proposed to Morrison that Wham-O could mass produce this toy and Morrison would obtain royalties. The patent for the Pluto Platter, the first for a toy of its kind, became official four days after I was born, on Sept. 30 1958. By then, Wham-O began marketing this Morrison invention as the Pluto Platter Frisbee. In 1964, a new CEO at Wham-O by the name of Ed Headrick took over the design process for the Platter.
He took this novelty toy, got rid of the “spacecraft” association, and made it more of a sporting good. Along with a new design Headrick dropped the Pluto Platter name. Headrick’s marketing skills brought the name Frisbee to the forefront of America’s consciousness, and he became obsessed with the Frisbee and the games that one could create with it. It was he who invented the disc golf Pole-Hole, the target catching device for the game of disc golf, which he is also credited with formalizing in the mid 1970s.
Coincidentally, Jan. 23 marked Morrison’s birthday and also the day in 1957 when he signed over control of his invention to two “slingshotting” entrepreneurs. Go throw a Frisbee and be happy! Read more about the origins of the flying disc in Morrison’s book, “Flat Flip Flies Straight.”