About this Article
Written by: Gautam Dandavate
Written on: May 2nd, 2003
Tags: entertainment, physics, sports & recreation
Thumbnail by: Illumin
About the Author
At the time of writing, Gautam was a sophomore at USC majoring in mechanical engineering. He is an avid soccer fan and a staunch supporter of Manchester United F.C.
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Collaborative Engineering Creates Artificial Mega-Structure at the Port of Los AngelesWritten by: Kalia Shibao
Immersed in RealityWritten by: Ammar Chinoy
Satellites: Made to SoarWritten by: William Liu
The Digital Image SensorWritten by: Kenneth Newton
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Volume V Issue III > The Frisbee
The Frisbee, generally held to be a simple toy for children, was invented and refined in the late nineteenth century. Although it has grown in popularity since then, its general design, and thus the technique for its use, have remained fairly constant. The flight of a Frisbee is allowed and governed by the principles of physics. It is only through the combination of forces, rotational motion, and precession that it is allowed to fly along a straight trajectory.


Most of us have enjoyed a game of Frisbee while at the beach or in the park. However, not many of us know much about how this toy was invented or how it works.
The story of the Frisbee's origin is interesting: it seems difficult to imagine that the first Frisbees were actually tins used to hold pies. When these pie tins were redesigned into the plastic disc that we are familiar with today, the Frisbee became one of the most identifiable and popular toys of the past century.
Externally, the Frisbee is simple. It is merely a disc with a concave and convex side. It is fairly simple to throw. It is necessary, however, to understand these basics in order to understand the more complex physics that govern the flight of the toy.
The forces that act on a Frisbee and the Frisbee's rotational motion are what account for its stable linear trajectory in the air. The effects of the forces and the rotational motion permit a Frisbee to fly in the air instead of plummeting to the ground.

The History of the Frisbee

The word "Frisbee" was derived from the name of William Russell Frisbie. In 1871, Frisbie bought a bakery in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and named it the Frisbie Pie Company. Located near Yale University, the Frisbie Pie Company sold pies to students at the college. After eating the pies, the students discovered that the pie tins flew when thrown in the air. Students played with these pie tins by throwing and catching them, thereby initiating the first games of Frisbee. As the tins had the words "Frisbie Pie Company" imprinted on them, the name Frisbie was permanently associated with the toy and the activity [1].
It was not until 1948 that Fred Morrison, a part-time inventor, became aware of this novel college pastime. He designed a plastic version of the metal tin that could fly longer distances and be thrown with better precision. He began selling his flying plastic discs at county fairs, where audiences were fascinated by them [1].
In 1955, Morrison sold the patent on his invention to a California-based toy company called Wham-O. Within two years, Wham-O began large-scale production of the discs. They renamed the toy as the "Frisbee" for marketing purposes and obtained a registered trademark for it. The Frisbee was a success for Wham-O, as it sold over 100,000,000 units.
Mattel Toy Manufacturers owns the trademark for the Frisbee today, having bought it from Wham-O. In addition, there currently exist 60 other manufacturing companies that market their own versions of the Frisbee [2].

The Design of a Frisbee

Figure 1: Frisbees are made up of a concave and convex side with curves that unique to the toy. (Flash)
Current Frisbee design is more or less consistent with the design of the first Frisbees manufactured by Wham-O. According to their patent filed in 1965, "the toy comprises of a central portion and a rim circumscribing the central portion and curving downwardly from the central portion. The central portion and the rim together form a concave and convex side of the toy, wherein the rim has a greater thickness than the central portion." The curved part of the convex side has "plurality of ridges,"or corrugations, "superimposed or raised on it" in concentric arrangement" (Fig. 1) [3].