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Middlebury College Claims Stake in Frisbee Creation

May 23, 1989 GMT

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (AP) _ Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth students have long held they were the first to pick up a pie tin made by the Frisbie Pie Co. and toss it back and forth. But Middlebury College insisted Tuesday they were all wrong.

″It happened all over America. But it started here,″ said Middlebury President Olin Robison.

Middlebury says its students started the pie tin toss 50 years ago, and on Tuesday the school unveiled a bronze statue of a dog catching a modern-day version.

The 300-pound statue, by artist Patrick Villiers Farrow of Rutland, was placed in a quadrangle where students play with Frisbee flying discs now.

Middlebury officials contend that a group of Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers happened upon the game while taking a road trip to a fraternity convention in Nebraska.

Short on money, the frat brothers feasted on a 1939 favorite, Frisbie fruit pies. While waiting for a flat tire to be repaired, two DU brothers began tossing the leftover tin back and forth to amuse themselves, the story goes.

They shared the game with the entire campus when they returned, according to an article in a spring 1976 issue of the Middlesbury College Newsletter.

‴That fall in Middlebury (1939) the air was filled with flying pans, every size and shape,‴ Robison said Tuesday, quoting the story. ‴Grade point averages dropped, football attendance suffered and all stores were out of pie pans.‴

Among those attending Tuesday’s ceremony was Margaret Cole, stepmother of one of the fraternity members. She has no doubt the Middlebury students were the first.

″The people from Yale - they just caught on,″ said Cole, who remembers the sudden disappearance of tin pie plates from stores after the fad took off. She switched to Pyrex dishes for her pies because ″they were too heavy. They didn’t fly well.″

Also on hand was Paul Eriksson, one of the fraternity brothers who went on the 1939 road trip. Eriksson, a book publisher, said he can’t quite remember the exact circumstances of that first pie tin toss.

And he doesn’t remember much about the convention because the DU brothers only sent one member to all the meetings. During their stay in Nebraska, Erikson said, ″we probably threw Frisbies.″

After World War II, the travels of the flying pie tins become easier to document, according to Dan Roddick of the Wham-O Manufacturing Co. in San Gabriel, Calif., which makes the modern Frisbee flying disc.

In 1948, West Coast inventor Walter Fred Morrison made plastic versions of the old pie tin and marketed them as flying saucers. In 1957, Wham-O Manufacturing Co. began selling them under a registered trademark.

While marketing the new product, Wham-O discovered the popularity of flying pie plates and liked the name. But company officials didn’t realize the origin of the name, and misspelled it, he said.

″As to the documentation on who cast the first one without a blueberry pie in it, that’s a bit of a challenge,″ Roddick said.

Roddick said the controversy has been fierce at times. He recalled a series of letters between graduates of Yale and Princeton in Yale’s alumni magazine in which students presented documentation on where, when and how the first flying disc was thrown.

Roddick said there is documentation indicating children in colonial times played with flying wooden discs that were called ″sailors.″

″I think what you have here is a pretty spontaneous response to a natural opportunity,″ Roddick said.

Now, 27 countries belong to the World Flying Disc Federation and the National Association of Sporting Goods Manufacturers lists 57 companies that market flying saucers, Roddick said.

Eriksson seemed unfazed by the ruckus.

″Who would of thought that a silly little thing like throwing a pie tin would turn into a national pastime,″ he said.