Celebrating Wham-O’s ‘frisbee’ flying disk, a toy for all ages

Today, 13 January, is the date back in 1957 when the Wham-O toy company first began production of their plastic flying disk, or ‘Frisbee’, as they trademarked it.

The concept for the flying disk came about much earlier. While there are different tales regarding its invention, the most plausible story is that it came from the pie tins that the Frisbie Baking Company from Connecticut used to bake their pies in. The pies were popular with students at various New England colleges. Apart from enjoying the pies, they discovered that the empty pie tins could be tossed and caught, resulting in many hours of fun and games.

In 1948, Walter Morrison from Los Angeles created a plastic version of the flying disk that could be thrown more accurately than the pie tins. Morrison marketed his disk, which contained a specifically sloped design and thicker outer edge, as the ‘Pluto Platter’, and this became the blueprint for future flying disk designs. Rich Knerr and Spud Melin of the Wham-O company quickly saw the potential of Morrison’s invention and convinced him to sell them the rights to the design.

The flying disk of 'frisbee' is a truly age-defying toy, and can offer hours of fun to players of all ages.(© All Rights Reserved)
The flying disk of ‘frisbee’ is a truly age-defying toy, and can offer hours of fun to players of all ages.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Shortly after Wham-O started producing their version of the flying disk, the Frisbie Pie Company closed down, and Wham-O named their disk the ‘Frisbee’, acknowledging the role the Frisbie pie tins played in the invention of their toy. Thanks to Wham-O’s clever marketing of the Frisbee disk, sales soared, and the toy even caught on as a serious sport. By 1964, Wham-O released the first professional version of the Frisbee, with better accuracy and more stable flight. The key innovation in the professional version was the introduction of raised concentric ridges, called the ‘Rings of Headrick’ after its inventor, Wham-O’s Ed Headrick.

Physically, the flight of the frisbee works very similar to a standard asymmetrical air foil, accelerating airflow over the disk resulting in a pressure difference causing a lifting force. The ‘Rings of Headrick’ help by causing the airflow to become turbulent as soon as it passes over the ridge of the disk, thus reducing flow separation. In addition to the lift caused by its shape, the torque created by the heavier edge of the spinning disk also has a gyroscopic effect, stabilizing the disk in flight. Higher rates of spin results in greater stability.

Minor adjustments to the shape of the disk can cause significant changes to the flight dynamics – something that can be utilised effectively in specific applications like disk golf where the aim is to cover a course and throw the disk into a basket – similar to sinking a put in golf. Disk golf players use different design disks for ‘putting’, ‘driving’ etc.

The Frisbee even gained scientific legitimacy when, in 1968, the US Navy spent a whopping $400 000 studying the flight of the frisbee in wind tunnels, following its flight with high speed cameras and performing advanced computer flight simulations. The project even included the development of a special frisbee launching machine. (The mind just boggles at all the potential conspiracy theories regarding UFO flight that this must have caused…)

Today the Frisbee trademark is owned by Mattell Toys. More than 100 million frisbees were sold by Wham-O prior to selling the toy to Mattel. Beyond this, many millions more flying disks were sold by other manufacturers, so one can only speculate how many flying disks have been sold since its invention more than 50 years ago.

A personal ode to running on World Run Day

Today, 11 November, is World Run Day. Nothing fancy, just a day founded first and foremost to celebrate the joy of running, and secondly to create an opportunity for runners to organise their own local World Run Day events, with the aim of collecting funds for a charity of their choice.

I love running. Simple as that. To me, running, and distance running in particular, really is the purest sport of all – no fancy equipment, no complicated rules, just you and the road. Be it a tarred road in a city or a dirt track in the mountains, the idea is to get from point A to point B using no other means of propulsion than your own body, sometimes with a specific target time in mind, and other times with no goal other than to have as much fun as possible while you’re out doing it.

The benefits of running are numerous – from a physical point of view, it has huge cardiovascular benefits, and despite the stories about ‘runner’s knee’ etc, it really is good for your musculoskeletal system. And the benefits are not just physical – few things clear the mind and calm the soul like a long run in the early morning before the city wakes up and all the craziness starts. Not to mention the mental boost of jogging on a beautiful single track path in the wilderness. And as any runner will tell you, few things beat the ‘runner’s high’ you get after a long, tough run.

Before I ‘became a runner’ (I still often doubt if I can call myself that, especially when I see these huge gaps in my running diary, but that’s another story…) I remember seeing these people seemingly slogging along on the pavement, often in terrible weather, and I thought to myself they must be crazy. Why on earth would you do this to yourself? And it looks so boring! And then, one day, for whatever reason, you decide to go for a jog; and then another; and then perhaps you enter some fun run… And so it evolves, and before you know it, you’ve finished your first marathon. Or perhaps you never bother entering a race, and simply get into the habit of going out for a run every day, some rain or shine. But suddenly things are different – you’re the one out running in the rain, and seeing these people driving past, looking at you like you’re some crazy nut.

But you know better…

Join me in celebrating World Run Day. Go for a run. Whether you’ve done it before, or not. Whatever the weather.

It’s good for you.