William Russell Frisbie returned to his home state of Connecticut after the Civil War and eventually settled into business, turning a division of the Olds Baking Company into a thriving eponymous pie empire. But as popular as the Frisbie pies became, the containers they came in—stamped Frisbie’s Pies in bold type on the bottom—would prove infinitely more so.
A circular, flat metal pan, Frisbie’s tins had the requisite raised rim to not only hold in the pie, but they proved to be aerodynamic as well. Soon workers at the bakery on Kossuth Street, maybe inspired by local kids, noticed their aerodynamic quality, and during lunch breaks they took to throwing them around.
Frisbie supplied his pies to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Northeast, and also to nearby Yale University. There the metal pies pans were liberated from the cafeteria and thrown all over campus, where Frisbie-ing became a popular study diversion. (There is a competing theory about the Frisbie name that’s been “tossed around.” Some say it wasn’t the pie tins, but instead the lids of the Frisbie sugar cookie containers that really flew – but either way Mr. Frisbie’s bakery still gets the credit.)
It would take the efforts of another man to help turn the popular campus pastime into an international craze and toy juggernaut. Across the country, in California, World War II fighter pilot Walter Morrison was no stranger to the subtleties of aerodynamics. He created a flying toy, similar in looks to the Frisbie pan, called the Whirlo-Way, which he changed to the Flying Saucer, and eventually to the Pluto Platter, in keeping with the popularity of science fiction in post-war America.
But sales of Morrison’s flying saucer toys were relatively modest until he was approached by the Wham-O Company in California, proud creators of the Hula Hoop. Acquiring the rights from Morrison, Wham-O’s founders Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin recalled a recent trip to Connecticut where they had seen students on Yale’s illustrious campus tossing Frisbie pie pans to each other, yelling “Fris-bie!!” when there was an incoming tin. Knerr and Melin were struck by the name, altering the spelling slightly to Frisbee in 1957 (so as to avoid any pesky trademark problems). Wham-O would go on to eventually sell nearly 300 million Frisbees, and counting.
The very next year, in 1958, the bakery that lent its name to the Frisbee (whether they knew it or not) closed its doors and was sold to Table Talk Pies of Worcester, Massachusetts. Today the old location of the Frisbie Pie Company is a parking lot, right next door to an old elementary school. (Maybe it was those kids who first inspired the tossing of the pie tins…)