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There’s no dispute around the fact that Fred Morrison sold the rights to his “Pluto Platter,” the object that would later become known as the Frisbee, to the Wham-O toy company in 1957. But the makeshift predecessor to the plastic Frisbee–a pie tin repurposed for a game of catch–has a murkier origin story.
Morrison said that he and his then-future wife used to toss popcorn container lids to one another, and later cake pans. Local lore in New Haven, Conn., pegs the pie tin tradition to Yale students who began tossing tins from the Frisbie Pie Company–based up the road in Bridgeport–as early as the 1920s. But even among New Haven old-timers, there is disagreement as to whether the tradition originated on campus or was brought there by students returning from war.
Regardless of who thought of it first, these photographs of students at Kenyon College in Ohio tossing around a pie tin in 1950 provide visual evidence of the pastime’s popularity. Though the more organized sport of Ultimate Frisbee wasn’t conceived until the late 1960s, some of the photos suggest a group activity that extends beyond a simple game of catch.
The photos, which never ran in LIFE, were made by Eliot Elisofon for a story about the changing place of the “Educated Man” in contemporary society. The photos that did accompany the article, published in October 1950, featured students in the midst of more academic pursuits–hunched over books and practicing Latin, for example. Though the author, historian and philosopher Jacques Barzon, wrote much about baseball during his long career, he didn’t concern himself much with sport here. “We can understand hobbies,” he wrote, but “we tend to fear scholarly studies.”
Once Wham-O began selling the Frisbee seven years after these images were made, the toy’s popularity soared, thanks to a baby boom that significantly increased the number of children looking for toys to play with and parents’ growing disposable income to buy them with. An increasingly sophisticated plastic industry also contributed to the Frisbee’s aerodynamic design.
Though the Bridgeport factory closed in 1958, Frisbie brand pies are made today in Worcester, Mass. So even today, you can have your pie and throw it, too.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.