The Birth of the Frisbee
The History of Ultimate Frisbee begins with the invention of the Frisbee, aka, the disc. The origins of the Frisbee begin over one hundred years ago with the Frisbie Baking Company in the small town of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Frisbie Baking Company was the purveyor of delicious pies.
The founder of the Frisbie Baking Company was William Frisbie, and he had a unique “spin” on marketing his pies. These pies were sold in light, metal tins emblazoned with the logo of the Frisbie Baking Company.
Employees and customers alike soon found
out they had some special properties. These tins were remarkably adept at something other than holding pies. Workers began tossing these pie tins around the factory floor, and then around the factory grounds and during their free time away from work.
Eventually tossing the discs around became very popular at many of the colleges and universities in New England which marks the beginning of the sport of Ultimate Frisbie. The Frisbie pie tin is the ancestor of today’s modern Frisbee or Disc.
The Development of the Frisbee
The father of the modern Frisbee is Walter Frederick Morrison. He was the first modern producer and inventor of Frisbees. The development of the modern Frisbee begins on a beach in Santa Monica in 1938. On that day Mr. Morrison and his future wife Lucile were tossing a pie pan back and forth on the beach.
Bystanders began to take notice and soon after someone approached Walter and Lucile and offered to pay 25 cents for the tin. Since he had only paid 5 cents for the pie tin he gladly accepted and an idea dawned on him for a new product, a disc that could be produced cheaply and sold as a sporting good or recreational device.
As Morrison puts it, “That got the wheels turning, because you could buy a cake pan for 5 cents, and if people on the beach were willing to pay a quarter for it, well, there was a business.” (1) Walter Morrison and his wife began purchasing pie pans in bulk and selling them on the beach for 25 cents, making a sizable profit on each sale. This business continued until the onset of World War II, when Morrison joined the United States Air Force.
Following his military service in 1946, Frederick began mulling a design for a lightweight plastic version of the pie tins he sold on the beach in Santa Monica. After experimenting with different models and taking on a creative partner named Warren Franscioni he settled on one design in 1948 and called it the “Whirl-O-Way”.
After the UFO craze of the late forties hit the country they decided to change the name from Whirl-O-Way to the “Flying Saucer” to capitalize on the mania. After almost a decade in business Morrison eventually sold his idea in 1957 to the Wham-O Toy Corporation. The Wham O Company decided to rename the discs after their first inventor, William Frisbie, and the modern Frisbee was born.
The Beginning of Disc Sports
After the creation of the modern Frisbee, it did not take long for people to start developing organized sports around the new device. There is debate as to where and when the history of Ultimate begins but many sources trace the roots of modern Ultimate to early “Frisbee Football” games.
The rules of this sport were very similar to traditional American football but instead of a pigskin the players used a Frisbee. There were a few rule changes from normal football including no contact as well as unlimited forward passing but the game nominally followed the rules of football. This game is the first step in the development of modern, organized disc sports.
These early versions of a disc sport were played at colleges around the country, but mainly in New England. The “early adopters” of disc sports were prestigious colleges and universities like Amherst and Yale. While Frisbees and disc sports were very popular with the college set the history of USA Ultimate as we know it today started with more humble beginnings.
The Creation of Ultimate Disc
Columbia High School located in the small town of Maplewood, New Jersey is the birthplace of modern Ultimate Disc in 1968. The father of Ultimate Disc was a student at the school named Joel Silver. He had learned a version of Frisbee football at a camp he attended and he brought that game back with him to Maplewood. After tweaking the rules to better suit Frisbee competition he introduced the game to classmates and it was a rousing success.
The first written records pertaining to Ultimate Disc come from a high school council resolution at Columbia High. The resolution called for the creation of an Ultimate Disc club and many people including a number of members from the high school newspaper joined.
The early game had most of the basics of today’s Ultimate Disc with looser rules. Many more people could play per team, 30 per team compared to 7 today. The early version of Ultimate also allowed some running with the disc and had football downs as well as scrimmage lines. After a while the modern version began to take shape.
A Brief History of the Development of Ultimate
While Joel Silver is considered the inventor of modern Ultimate Frisbee there were a number of other figures involved in the creation and development of the sport of Ultimate. The leagues did not develop overnight and it took many years for the current Ultimate Disc system to be set up.
The first recorded Frisbee tournament was founded by the four Healy brothers, Jake, Tim, Pete, and Bob Healy in 1958 called the International Frisbee Tournament. This is the oldest Frisbee tournament on record and is still played today. The first event was held at Eagle Harbor in Michigan. The first championship trophy in Ultimate Frisbee is the Julius T. Nachazel Cup. This early Frisbee tourney set the stage for the birth of what we now know as Ultimate Frisbee.
On the collegiate level the first Ultimate game was played by the same two universities who played the very first intercollegiate football game. On November 6th, 1972 Rutgers defeated Princeton 29 to 27. Interestingly, Rutgers had also won the first football match 103 years earlier on the same field by the same 2 point margin.
The Rules of Modern Ultimate
Modern Ultimate rules differ significantly from the early rules at Columbia High School. The modern game shares many similarities with the original versions of the game but is more polished and regulated.
Ultimate is played and regulated primarily by two organizations, the American Ultimate Disc League and USA Ultimate. Internationally, The World Flying Disc Federation provides direction on Ultimate Rules and Events.