Ed Headrick, Designer of the Modern Frisbee, Dies at 78' is a circular sand mandala with a seventeen foot diameter. Loose colored sand was moved around on a circular platform with a paintbrush until the entire platform was covered with an image derived from an enlargement of a digital scan of a 'World Class' Frisbee. The image is at once a peroformance of a sacred rite as well as an act of comedy. It lies on the crossroads between the sacred and the profane. It is monumental in scale, but at the same time it is so fragile that a single touch can destroy the continuity of its surface. The Frisbee is a visitor from a utopia that never had a site, but existed in the minds of Americans during a time when science, chemical engeneering and space travel were believed to have the potential to re-form society. This installation is about the fragility of the dream, the fragility of memory, and the fragility of optimism. The piece is thrown away when it is de-installed and then re-created in another location. The frisbee makes it's appearance again in Weinstein's sculpture installation, 'The Triumph Of Painting, 2006' in which two bronze skeletons toss a bronze frisbee. The frisbee still serves as a metaphor for progress, memory and cultural disillusionment, but in the hands of these grinning skeletons it becomes part of a Dia de los Muertos tableau. 

August 14, 2002
by Douglas Martin


Ed Headrick, who designed and patented the modern Frisbee, died Monday at his home in La Selve Beach, California. He was 78.

The cause was a stroke, said Scott Keasey, national sales manager for the Disc Golf Association. The association governs and supplies equipment for disc golf, a variation of golf invented by Mr. Headrick.

Mr. Keasey said that when Mr. Headrick accepted a job in 1964 as head of research and development for the Wham-O Manufacturing Company in San Gabriel, California, he was assigned the task of figuring out what to do with a warehouse full of unused plastic that had been intended for Hula-Hoops, another Wham-O product that came and went quickly.

His idea was to modify the Pluto Platter, a disc toy originally intended for children, inot a sport for teenagers and adults. Walter Frederick Morrison had invented the disc and sold it to Wham-O in 1995. Mr. Morrison's name is on the patent granted in 1957, and he bacame rich from Frisbee royalties.

Mr. Headrick added the rings surrounding the top of the Frisbee to enhance stability in flight, as well as perfecting the shape to make it more earodynamic. His name is on patent No. 3,359,678, dated Dec 26, 1967.

His so-called professional model became the modern Frisbee, although the patent document called it a flying saucer. The game of Frisbee had its roots on the campuses of New England colleges, where the Frisbee Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, sold pies, and students liked to toss the empty tins.

But Richard Knerr, president of Wham-O, said in an interview in late June that the similarity of the name of Wham-O's disc to the name of the student game was a coincidence. He said that the name came from a comic strip called Mr. Frisbee.

Edward Early Headrick was born in South Pasadena, California, on June 28, 1924. He served in the Army infantry in Europe during World War Two and later worked as a deep-sea welder and water heater salesman, among other things.

He knew Arthur Melin, one of the owners of Wham-O, and offered to work for free for three months to prove his worth. He evaluated ideas for new products,- some good, like the ultrabouncy Super Ball, and some failures, like Instant Fish, actually a kind of shrimp, which would not lay eggs fast enough.

"We have to review, say, 100 new ideas to find one that even has interest," he said in an interview with Popular Science Magazine in 1966. "We have to look at 1,000 before we turn up one that seems worth the cost of testing. We have to run through 50 to 100 tests of different ideas before we come up with something as good as the Super Ball."

In 1967, Mr. Headrick founded the International Frisbee Association. In the early 1970's, he created disc golf, which involves throwing a Frisbee-like disc at a metal cage. About four million people play the sport.

He is survived by his wife Farina Headrick; a daughter, Valerie Headrick, of Quincy, California; three sons, Ken, of San Juan-San Ramon, Costa Rica; Daniel of Laguna Beach, California, and Gary, of San Clemente, California; and eleven grandchildren.

Mr. Headrick asked that his ashes be molded into a limited number of memorial flying discs, which will be distributed to his family and friends, his son told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

"We used to say that the Frisbee is really a religion - 'Frisbyterians,' we'd call ourselves," Mr. Headrick said in an interview with the newspaper in October.

"When we die, we don't go to purgatory," he continued. "we just land up on the roof and lay there."