L'il Abner's Flyin-Saucer, Fred Morrison, 1950.

29 March 2023
AIBDC : 008605
Image credit: MoDiP

This bright and sunny, yellow coloured frisbee is in an amazing condition given that it is over 70 years old. That is largely due to the fact that it has been unused: 1600 of these Arcuate Vanes were discovered in a warehouse in 1977, where this example is believed to have originated. We think it was injection moulded in butyl stearate.

Fred Morrison’s design for the Whirlo Way.
Image credit: https://www.flyingdiscmuseum.com/

It was designed by Fred Morrison who had been inspired to create a new toy by watching children throwing empty pie tins to each other. According to Phil Kennedy at the Flying Disc Museum, Morrison created his first flying disc in 1946 out of metal with a wire frame for additional weight and strength, called the Whirlo Way (refer image above). This became the basis of his design for a plastics version two years later called the Flyin-Saucer (refer image below), capitalising on the American UFO craze of that time. It was moulded by the Southern California Plastic Company (SCP) for Pipco, a business set up by Morrison and his friend Warren Franscioni who had met as pilots during WWII.


The first version of Pipco’s Flyin-Saucer, released between 1948-1950.
Image credit: https://www.flyingdiscmuseum.com/antiques/flyin-saucers/hAFB25767#ha2c97943

The two men quickly realised that their toy needed to be demonstrated, attributing slow sales to the fact that nobody had come across a Flyin-Saucer disc before. They would throw and catch one between them in local stores, fairs, and marketplaces, joking that the Flyin-Saucer was free but the invisible wire cost $1!
By 1949, Pipco were marketing the toy as a gyroscopic airfoil, sold wrapped with a paper insert that described how to use it and how to order more. The following year they released their second design (MoDiP’s example), which they called the L'il Abner's Flyin-Saucer, packaged with a sticker on the top face and a round card insert featuring the popular satirical comic strip drawn by Alfred Caplin/Al Capp (refer image below).

The sticker and card insert.
Image credit: MoDiP

Unfortunately, a disagreement resulted in Capp claiming Pipco had breached their agreement and on threatening to sue he demanded $5000 in compensation which, ultimately, forced the closure of Pipco in late 1950. Southern California Plastics sought permission from Morrison to continue to mould the design for a few more years under their own name, although they chose to mould it in polyethylene. Morrison then bought and sold some of these new discs before producing a completely different prototype in 1955 called the Pluto Platter and released through his new company, American Trends. He sold the rights to the Wham-O Corporation in 1957 who trademarked the name frisbee in 1959, now synonymous with flying discs.

Fred Morrison promoting his Pluto Platter, 1957.
Image credit: https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2010/apr/29/fred-morrison-obituary

If you would like to view this object in the museum, please contact us.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer