January 23: A Pie in the Sky Idea Takes Off.

In 1871, a Civil War veteran and baker by the name of William Russell Frisbie opened the Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, later building a large factory on the city’s east side to accommodate the growing demand for his pastries.  Little did he know that one day, several decades in the future, his name would become internationally famous — not for his pies, but for the containers they were sold in.

One of the original pie tins from Bridgeport’s Frisbie Pin Company.

Frisbie’s pie tins, each one stamped with an iconic “FRISBIE’S PIES” mark in the bottom, were manufactured with a ridged rim around the perimeter, which — as local schoolchildren soon discovered — turned them into ideal flying projectiles.  While it’s unclear exactly when and by whom the trend was started, by the turn of the century, throwing Frisbie pie tins had become a popular schoolyard sport all along the Connecticut shoreline, with everyone from grade-school children to Yale college students enjoying the pastime.

The idea of commercializing the flying pie tins for a national audience, however, didn’t materialize until many years later.  After World War II, a Californian named Walter Morrison designed a plastic flying disc toy, evidently completely uninfluenced by the distinctly Connecticut trend of throwing Frisbie pie tins. Capitalizing on the popular science fiction trends of the early 1950s, Morrison tried to sell his invention under the names “Flying Saucer” and “Pluto Platter,” but ended up selling the rights to notable toy company Wham-O in 1957 after years of disappointing sales.

Promotional photo of Walter Morrison posing with a Pluto Platter.

On January 23, 1957, Wham-O began mass-producing its first flying discs under the “Pluto Platter” moniker, kicking off what would soon become one of the most popular toys in company history.  Not long after production started, a pair of Wham-O employees recalled a recent trip to Connecticut where they witnessed the trend of youngsters throwing around disc-shaped pie plates and yelling “Frisbie!” whenever one of them flew off-course.  When the company decided to rework its flying disc design — adding more ridges to make the toy more aerodynamic and stable — they also renamed it the Frisbee, purposefully altering the spelling as to ward off potential lawsuits from the Bridgeport bakery.   The newly redesigned and rebranded Frisbee flew off store shelves nationwide and quickly became one of the most iconic American toys of the 20th century, with Wham-O selling over 200 million Frisbees before selling the rights to the Mattel Toy Manufacturers company in 1994.  A sports craze that is still going strong with millions of fans first hit store shelves under its Bridgeport-influenced name, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

A Pie Tin’s Soaring Sales,” connecticuthistory.org

Eliza Berman, “An Early Version of Frisbee on a College Green in 1950,” Time Magazine

Nora Wessel, “Local Pie Tin [Was] First Frisbee, Legend Holds,” Yale Daily News