A Fun History of Promotional Products: The Frisbee

Red branded frisbee

What does the term “branded promotional product” mean to you? It may bring to mind the basics: pens, t-shirts, and mugs. But it doesn’t stop there. Items for fun and play, like Frisbees, can also be decorated with your logo and used to send a unique message.

The Frisbee has a long history, from ancient sport to college pastime to its use as an advertising tool and promotional product. Let’s toss things back in time in our next installment of A Fun History of Promo.

The First Frisbees

The plastic Frisbee in your garage can trace its roots back to the first Olympic Games. In the 8th century BC, discus throwing was a popular sport among the Ancient Greeks. These discs were made of metal, and typically weighed about 5 pounds—a bit dangerous to be tossing around! While modern Frisbees are thrown back and forth among players, discus discs were made to be thrown at stationary targets.

Discus throwing was a popular sport going back to the first Olympic games in Ancient Greece, as depicted in this statue located in Copenhagen.

Over the centuries, similar games were developed, all using metal discs. Even the modern Frisbee started out as a metal object, although a much lighter one: a tin pie plate.

In 1871, William Frisbie opened the Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, CT. His pies were a popular treat among local college students. After finishing the pies, students would toss the empty tins back and forth for fun. Stamped on the bottom of each tin were the words “Frisbie’s Pies.” With each toss, the thrower would yell “Frisbie!” as a heads up to the next player.

Tin-throwing made its way to the West Coast, too. Walter Frederick Morrison, an inventor, enjoyed sun-filled days on California beaches, tossing cake tins back and forth with his wife. The tins may have been fun to throw, but their accuracy wasn’t the best. Morrison had the idea to make a disc of plastic rather than tin, which could be tossed with greater accuracy and would fly farther than the tin version.

In 1948, Morrison and his business partner Warren Franscioni began selling the “Flying Saucer,” the first plastic version of the Frisbee. These were popular not only at colleges, but thanks to a new craze sweeping the nation: UFO’s. The first UFO sighting had occurred in 1947. Morrison tapped into the space craze to successfully market the Flying Saucer. By the early 1950s, he had changed the name to “Pluto Platter.”

Frisbees Go Mainstream

Frisbee by Mike Mozart, used under CC BY 4.0

Wham-O Toys, which had previously released top sellers like the Hula-Hoop, partnered with Morrison to market his discs nationwide. They took their lead from the college students, selling the first official product to be known as the “Frisbee” in 1957.

If you look at a Frisbee today, you’ll likely see an area of raised ridges encircling the surface. These are called “the Rings” and were added by Wham-O designer Ed Headrick, to help stabilize the Frisbee during flight. The added stability helped bring Frisbee from a fun pastime into the realm of sports.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, Ultimate Frisbee became popular, eventually becoming an official sport at many high schools and colleges.  Vermont was the first state to recognize Ultimate Frisbee as a Varsity high school sport, starting with the Spring 2019 season. It’s played around the world and has come full circle with its eligibility as an Olympic sport for the 2024 Olympics.

Frisbees as Promotional Products

With Frisbees flying off shelves, advertisers saw a unique branding opportunity. In the 1970s, they began printing a variety of logos and advertising messages on the plastic discs. Cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, food brands such as McDonalds and Coca Cola, and even popular musicians and bands began appearing on Frisbees.

1976 Presidential Campaign Branded Frisbee
Frisbees became popular as an advertising and promotional tool, including to promote political candidates.

Today, Frisbees can be purchased in a variety of sizes and materials, including folding polypropylene. They’re popular with pet owners, children, and anyone spending a day at the beach. Relatively inexpensive, they offer a large area for branding, and are both fun and functional.

Here’s a creative example of using Frisbees to promote a brand. In 2009, dog food company IAMS created Frisbees styled like barbells. They handed the Frisbees out to pet owners in Australia. The message? Eating IAMS makes dogs stronger. The campaign was effective, creating a memorable item that was fun for both people and their pets, and which could be used for years to come. 

Gedagt Media. (n.d.) Discover ideas about Street Marketing. [Pinterest post]. Retrieved May 6, 2019 from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/58124651415391294/

Like what you read? Keep an eye out for more Fun History of Promo stories to come! And contact Sarah, our Promotional Branding Specialist, to start growing your brand with promo.

Leave a Reply