Leftovers from City Hall: So long, disc man

Fly long and straight into the great beyond, Walter Frederick Morrison.

Morrison, formerly of La Verne, is the inventor of the Pluto Platter, which eventually turned out to be the Frisbee.

He died Tuesday in Utah at age 90.

The WHAM-O company for years manufactured the Frisbees in a plant behind the San Gabriel Nursery. The plant closed in the 1980s or early 1990s, according to city officials.

To those of us who spend our free time throwing discs around local parks, Morisson is a member of the disc Pantheon.

His invention eventually led to Frisbee golf, which most people now call disc golf.

The idea for the flying disc came when a 17-year-old Morrison and his girlfriend and future wife, Lucile, began tossing a large popcorn can lid back and forth for fun during a Thanksgiving party, according to the Associated Press.

He and a partner eventually developed a plastic disc.

In 1957 he sold his idea to WHAM-O, a fad company begun in the garage of one of its South Pasadena founders.

From 41,000-square-foot plant in San Gabriel, the company produced Frisbees, the SUPER BALL, the Slip `N Slide and the HULA HOOP, among other products.

WHAM-O has been sold several times since 1982 and is now based in Emeryville, according to its Web site.

WHAM-O employee “Steady” Ed Hedrick improved a little on Morrison’s design and opened the world’s first basket Frisbee golf course at Oak Grove in what is now called the Hahamongna Watershed Park near Pasadena, according to disc golf lore.

The sport – in which golfers throw discs into baskets from hundreds of feet away – is scored like golf. There are excellent courses at La Mirada Regional Park and the Whittier Narrows in South El Monte.

It’s usually free to play and the discs are cheap – less than $20. A beginning golfer really only needs two or three to get started.

I like to say it has all the self-hatred and failure of golf, but none of the expensive green fees.

Some people might tell you that its mandatory to sneak beer in your disc bag and smoke marijuana, but I can’t find any rules about that in the Disc Golf Association guidelines.

While this is mostly about flying discs, there is a local politics twist to all this.

San Gabriel really wants somebody to do a retail development at the WHAM-O factory, but it’s not visible from San Gabriel Boulevard.

San Gabriel, like all cities, is addicted to retail, because it gets a penny for every dollar spent on taxable items in city limits.

They get diddley squat for bringing in a manufacturing company that provides decent jobs.

Unlike most manufacturing industries, disc golf has not fled Southern California.

The world’s leading flying disc maker, Innova, has a big plant in Rancho Cucamonga. The world-record of an 820-foot throw was accomplished with an Innova disc.

The sport of disc golf is growing, and workers are optimistic the company will be around for a long time, said Mark Molnar, a staffer for Innova.

Hopefully the next governor will work to give companies like Innova a good reason to stay.

You never know when someone will come up with the next Pluto Platter.

- Ben Baeder is the deputy metro editor of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune

  • wally

    Do you happen to know thw current owners of the old factory in San Gabriel? Thank you, Wally