Today, Earl Tupper and Brownie Wise are remembered for their acrimonious split, but neither of the two entrepreneurs of 1950s America would have been able to create Tupperware alone.
Together, the inventor and saleswoman made Tupperware a household name—and there’s nowhere their shared legacy is more visible than the Wonder Bowl.
The Wonder Bowl has always been “the linchpin of Tupperware,” says Smithsonian curator Shelley Nickles, who frequently works with the National Museum of American History’s extensive Tupperware collection, which includes more than 100 pieces made between 1946 and 1999. The bowl was translucent like milk glass but more durable than any container before it. It was air- and water-tight as well, thanks to Tupper’s double sealed lid, patented in 1947, but could be sealed and unsealed just by pressing. As Tupperware dealers would tout to their clients a few years later, it was perfect for the fridge or for outside entertaining.
In the years following World War II, plastics inventor Tupper designed novel products intended—unlike most plastics to date—for the consumer market. Before this, plastic goods were manufactured for use in the war as everything from insulation for wiring to truck parts, but not for home use. Tupper created a new kind of plastic from oily polyethylene slag: called “Poly-T,” it was easy to mass-produce in a myriad of colors and form in a mold, giving it the clean modern look that set the Wonder Bowl apart.
When it was first released in 1946, the bowl—Tupperware’s very first product—was widely praised by the burgeoning plastic industry, says Nickles, which wanted quality plastic products in consumer hands. “It was also featured as an icon of modern design,” she says. An article in House Beautiful described its sleek, translucent, green-and-white lines as “fine art for 39 cents.” That was the original cost of the bowl, which translates to about $5.50 in today’s money. Now, a three-piece set of the Wonderlier bowl, its successor, goes for $35.00. Elsewhere, Tupperware products were described as “featherweight,” “pliable” and “modern.”
But even though the Wonder Bowl earned design and industry accolades, it wasn’t selling in department stores, and neither were Tupperware’s other products. They were too different: plastic was an unfamiliar material in the home. The patented Tupper seal had to be “burped” before it would work: it was difficult for people accustomed to glass jars and ceramic containers to intuit how to use the seal.
Wise, a former advice columnist and a secretary who lived with her mother, Rose Humphrey, and her young son Jerry Wise in Miami, Florida, however, saw potential. She started her own Tupperware-selling business, Patio Parties, in the late 1940s and recruited women to sell for her. The sales strategy was rooted in the home selling model pioneered by companies like Stanley Home Products, which used home sellers to demonstrate novel products, but Wise put women front and center as sellers at parties, then known as “Poly-T parties.” Instead of just a product demonstration, a Tupperware party was a party, whose hostess was supported by a Tupperware dealer—an honored guest who could demonstrate the products and sell. Hostesses received merchandise as a thank-you for providing their homes and social networks. By 1949, Wonder Bowls were flying out of the hands of Wise’s sellers: one woman sold more than 56 bowls in a week.
At this point, however, Tupper himself was just catching on to the idea of home selling. “In 1949, Tupper published a mail-order catalogue illustrated with product settings in his own New England home and featuring a range of 22 standard Tupperware items,” writes historian Alison J. Clarke in Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America. The products came in delicious-sounding fruit colors like raspberry and orange or expensive-sounding gem tones like sapphire and frosted crystal. But despite these appealing images—and the fact that unbreakable, sealable, leak-proof Tupperware was several steps above what people were using at the time to keep food in the fridge—consumers weren’t buying it. Tupperware was too high-tech and unusual to appeal to shoppers who weren’t used to having plastics in the home.
Wise’s innovation lay in figuring out how to make a plastic bowl familiar. The life of this divorced breadwinner was different from those of the married suburban housewives who Tupper was targeting, but she understood that they could be both the ideal market and the ideal salespeople for this new dishware, and she was able to create a Tupperware empire.
In 1951, Tupper hired Wise as his vice president of marketing, an unprecedented position for a woman, says Bob Kealing, author of Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire. She took charge of the newly created division of the company centered around what Kealing calls “the home party plan.” At the iconic Tupperware party, a well-dressed dealer with practiced demonstration skills would show the hostess and her friends how to use this high-tech, colorful new kitchenware. She’d lead the group in dramatic party games, like tossing a sealed Wonder Bowl full of grape juice around the room to demonstrate the strength of its seal. Dealers had the support of the Tupperware company and their regional dealer network, who would manage and encourage them to develop their demonstration skills. In return, they were able to earn income and recognition: they sold products at retail prices, but Tupperware only took the wholesale price of an item. Husbands, as the titular holder of the family money, often stepped in to deal with distribution, Kealing says, but the selling belonged to the dealers.
At Patio Parties, Wise had motivated her dealers by asking them to share their successes and expertise with one another. She ran a weekly newsletter for them and touted the idea of positive thinking, making Tupperware-selling as much a lifestyle as a job and empowering women who didn’t get recognition for doing household chores or caring for children. “She really could speak to her dealers’ dreams,” Kealing says. She listened to the women who worked for her and made marketing decisions based on their feedback. The saying she was known for: “You build the people and they’ll build the business.”
In the 1950s, as Tupperware sales soared, hitting $25 million in 1954 (more than $230 million in 2018’s money), products like the Wonder Bowl, Ice-Tup popsicle molds and the Party Susan divided serving tray came to represent a new post-war lifestyle that revolved around at-home entertaining and, yes, patio parties. More and more women (and some men) became dealers and distributors, and not just white suburbanites. In 1954, there were 20,000 people in the network of dealers, distributors and managers, according to Kealing. Technically, none of these people were employees of Tupperware: they were private contractors who collectively acted as the infrastructure between the company and the consumer.
Tupperware’s marketing model relies on social networks, Nickles says, which means it’s highly adaptable to a specific dealer’s social circle and needs. That meant dealers included rural women, urban women, black and white women. A lot of these women were attracted not just by the opportunity to make money, writes Clarke, but for the self-help rhetoric Wise used to work with dealers. She held pep rallies for her sales force and an annual retreat where the country’s top sellers received awards and gifts. The network of dealers and distributors also acted as a support network for those within it, Kealing says. If someone in the network needed help to succeed, such as someone to pick up their merchandise, the culture of the network meant they could ask.
In these years, Wise became the public face of Tupperware, appearing in women’s magazines and business publications to tout Tupperware and the business culture she created. Tupper himself didn’t like making public appearances, so Wise stood solo in the limelight. Among other press appearances, she became the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week. Tupperware in this period has been compared to a religion, with Wise its chief priest. She even carried a black chunk of polyethylene known as Poly around to sales rallies. Wise maintained that it was the original polyethylene slag that Tupper had gotten to begin his experiments with, and encouraged dealers to rub Poly, “wish, and work like the devil, then they’re bound to succeed,” writes Clarke.
Although she was a prominent figure, Wise was also a woman in business at a time when “she really didn’t have any [female] contemporaries,” Kealing says. She had to make up her own way of doing things, without peers or mentors, and she made mistakes along the way. She may also have been overconfident in handling Tupper, he says, believing her own great press and not making him feel valued for continued innovation on the product side, he says. As time went on, she and Tupper fought frequently over company strategy and management. By the late 1950s, Tupper was looking to sell the company, and “his gut told him it would be less attractive to sell with an outspoken woman at the helm of the sales end,” he says. In January 1958, he and the board of directors fired Wise, who did not have a formal contract. After taking them to court, Wise received a one-time payout of a year’s salary, which was around $30,000. She went on to found and work at cosmetics companies that used the same kind of home party techniques, but none of them did all that well. Tupper sold the company in early 1958.
The modern Tupperware company has since worked to recognize Wise, donating $200,000 to an Orlando park near the company’s headquarters in 2016, so it could be renamed Brownie Wise Park, and adding her to the company’s official history. Her larger legacy, of course, is in creating the model for a whole field of home party businesses, from Mary Kay onwards. The home party model she pioneered at Tupperware has ensured the company’s continued success: it now does most of its sales abroad. But it’s also the basis for a burgeoning field of “side hustle” direct sales businesses that have found a new kind of meaning in our age of precarious labor, particularly for women. So-called “mom blogs” are full of companies like LuLaRoe, Pampered Chef and DoTerra, all of which rely on multi-level marketing and direct sales.
Kealing did a large portion of the research for his book in Smithsonian collections: though their relationship fractured in life, the papers of Tupper and Wise, including company memos between the two, as well as physical objects donated from their private collection by descendants, rest together in peace in the Smithsonian archives and the National Museum of American History.
Having both collections shows the two sides to the Tupperware story, Nickles says: the innovative product (which is sold by more than 3.2 million people today) and the ingenious marketing strategy. Referencing both record troves is “like putting the jigsaw puzzle together.”
What is the story behind Tupperware? ›
Chemist Earl Tupper had a spark of inspiration while creating molds at a plastics factory shortly after the Great Depression. If he could design an airtight seal for plastic storage containers, like those on a paint can, he could help war-weary families save money on costly food waste.Who was largely responsible for the success of Tupperware? ›
Brownie Mae Humphrey (May 25, 1913 – September 24, 1992) professionally Brownie Wise, was a pioneering American saleswoman largely responsible for the success of the home products company Tupperware, through her development of the "party plan" system of marketing. Buford, Georgia, U.S.Was Brownie Wise married? ›
In 1936, Brownie won a contest to paint a mural at the Texas Centennial in Dallas. While there, she met Robert W. Wise, who was in charge of the Ford Motor Company's exhibit. The couple married on December 15, 1936, and moved to Detroit shortly afterwards.Who invented Tupperware parties? ›
In late 1951, inventor Earl Tupper bought a thousand acres of cow pasture and swamp in Kissimmee, just outside the quiet farm town of Orlando, Florida. There, he and his new vice president and general manager, Brownie Wise, broke ground for the Tupperware Home Parties Inc.What is the point of Tupperware parties? ›
A Tupperware party is run by a Tupperware "consultant" for a host or hostess who invites friends and neighbors into their home to see the product line. Tupperware hosts and hostesses are rewarded with free products based on the level of sales made at their party.
Tupperware was developed by an American, Earl Tupper, in the mid 1940s. Tupperware Parties' in the 50s and 60s were a way of marketing the product directly to women. Tupperware looked nothing like the plasticware that was in most women's kitchens.Who was the woman behind Tupperware? ›
She introduced the now popular household item, Tupperware, to the market. A pioneering businesswoman when there were not many women in business, her career serves as an inspiration for generations of women. Brownie Mae Humphrey was born in Buford, Georgia on May 25, 1913.Do Tupperware parties still exist? ›
Hosting a big party is easy when you can do it either online or in person. The bigger the party, the bigger the rewards and discounts!Who are the top Tupperware sellers? ›
Aunt Barbara, Dee W. Ieye and Kay Sedia are recognized for being the top three in personal sales in the U.S. and Canada at the annual West Coast Tupperware Jubilee in Anaheim. Barbara Venezia and Dee W.What is the oldest Tupperware product? ›
Tupper's first product, the Wonderbowl, introduced the iconic "burp seal."
What is the brownie story? ›
In the story, a selfish boy seeks a brownie to do his chores for him because he is too lazy to do them himself. A wise old owl tells him that brownies do not really exist and the only real brownies are good little children who do chores without being asked.What is Tupperware real name? ›
Earl Tupper died in 1983. The patents on many of his classic Tupperware products ran out in the 1980s, but his design ideas still influence the plastics industry, the food industry, and the lives of people around the world who store their food in plastic containers with lids that seal.Who owns Tupperware now? ›
Tupperware Brands is not owned by hedge funds. BlackRock, Inc. is currently the company's largest shareholder with 15% of shares outstanding. FMR LLC is the second largest shareholder owning 15% of common stock, and The Vanguard Group, Inc.Why is Tupperware called Tupperware? ›
From Tupper + -ware. Named after Earl Tupper, who invented the product in 1942 and founded the company that produced it. Thus it is a genericised trademark.Why did Tupperware go out of business? ›
It blamed the sales erosion on challenges such as pandemic-triggered lockdowns in key overseas markets such as China significantly hurting its direct sale business and consumers pulling back their overall spending because of inflation.How long can a Tupperware party stay open? ›
They will receive an email with a special shopping link. To get started, all you have to do is contact a local Tupperware Consultant. Then just sign up as a Host. Your event will remain active for 14 days, during which time you can invite as many shoppers as you like.How much does it cost to stay active in Tupperware? ›
Make sure you sell at least $250 in Tupperware for each 4-month period. Tupperware requires consultants to sell at least $250 in products for every 4-month period. If you miss your sales goals, your account will be deactivated.Why do people buy old Tupperware? ›
By buying vintage, you're practicing sustainability and reusing something from a different generation. Plus, Tupperware is one of those kitchen workhorses that still functions perfectly after decades of use.What made Tupperware so special in 1954? ›
In the 1950s, plastic became indispensable--especially in products for the home. Foremost were Tupperware's "Wonderlier" bowls--lightweight, flexible, and unbreakable, with a patented air-tight seal to keep foods fresher longer.What year did Tupperware parties start? ›
Women attend a Tupperware party, hosted to market the new brand of plastic containers. 1955. By the mid-1950s, the Tupperware party (at which women gathered in the home of the volunteering “hostess” to lively product demonstration) had become a cultural hallmark of postwar America.
What country did Tupperware originate from? ›
Tupperware Brands Corporation, formerly Tupperware Corporation, is an American multinational company that produces home product lines that include kitchen gadgets, preparation, storage containers, and serving products for the kitchen and home.What are Tupperware parties called? ›
The sales strategy was rooted in the home selling model pioneered by companies like Stanley Home Products, which used home sellers to demonstrate novel products, but Wise put women front and center as sellers at parties, then known as “Poly-T parties.” Instead of just a product demonstration, a Tupperware party was a ...Is Tupperware being sold at Target? ›
1. Target sells a small, exclusive collection of Tupperware starting at $7.99. On Tupperware.com, you'll find more than 300 different food storage products, but don't expect to walk into Target and find that same selection.Should you throw away old Tupperware? ›
Recycle with the lid attached. Most recycling programs also accept #5 plastics. As for other types of plastic, check with your municipality. If you're not sure, it's better to be safe and dispose of your Tupperware and other plastic containers in the garbage.Is Tupperware really worth the money? ›
If you're concerned about the longevity of your plastic containers, Tupperware certainly has a reputation for durability. "An ordinary plastic container can last for a very long time; a Tupperware container can last for probably three lifetimes," says Matthew Tung, another CHOICE expert tester.Will Tupperware replace old items? ›
In the event of a product's failure to meet such warranty, Tupperware, at its election, will either replace the affected product with a like or similar product or provide a credit toward future purchases of Tupperware® brand products.
The average salary for Consultant at Tupperware in the United States is $21.66 per hour, which is 14% below the national average.How much does Tupperware make a year? ›
|Fiscal Year / Year||Tupperware Brands Revenue|
Tupperware has manufacturing plants in Belgium, Brazil, France, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Portugal, South Africa and the United States, and leases manufacturing and distribution facilities in China, India and Venezuela.Is 30 year old Tupperware safe? ›
BPA, as well as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury, are dangerous substances for humans, so if you've been using vintage Tupperware, the best thing you can do is not use them anymore. Plastic not only harms the environment but has also directly harmed humans for years.
What do the numbers on the bottom of Tupperware mean? ›
Each plastic recycling number is code for the specific plastic that your containers are made of. Most Tupperware is imprinted with the number five, representing polypropylene, generally a food safe plastic.Why do you burp Tupperware? ›
These containers have a small raised button in the center of the lid. The proper way to put the lid on an Instant Seal container it to place the lid on the container and press down on the button with your thumb. The excess air is expelled from the container, making the Tupperware burping sound.What is the original brownie elf story? ›
In 1929, the Atlas Beverage Company in Detroit began producing a Brownie caramel cream root beer, whose bottles were adorned with an elf. The company soon put a sign advertising the soda on the side of a building in downtown Massillon, Ohio. Off that, so the story goes, Brownie the Elf was born.What is the brownie story left right? ›
Every time they hear the word “right” whoever has the parcels passes them to the right. When they hear the word “left” they pass them to the left. When they hear the word “cross” the two girls holding the parcels swap places. If they hear the word “Brownies” they stand up and salute!What was Brownies original name? ›
Brownies were originally called Rosebuds and were founded by Lord Baden-Powell after the younger sisters of the Guides and Scouts showed an interest in joining the Guide Association. The Girl Guides Gazette said that Rosebuds wore a dark blue skirt, knitted jersey, cap or tam and the Rosebud Brooch.What brands does Tupperware own? ›
We now sell products under six brands consisting of Tupperware, which represents food preparation, storage and serving solutions for the home, and five brands of beauty and personal care products including Avroy Shlain, Fuller, NaturCare, Nutrimetics, and Nuvo.Can you microwave Tupperware? ›
Is Tupperware microwave safe? Manufacturers of Tupperware containers label their products BPA-free and microwave-safe. It means that Tupperware is microwave safe and can be microwaved without worries. But you should avoid overheating or lengthy reheating your food in a microwave.Who is the CEO of Tupperware? ›
Miguel Fernandez serves as Tupperware Brands Corporation Chief Executive Officer.Why is Target selling Tupperware? ›
It's part of Tupperware's bigger strategy to reinvent the brand, with plans to grow the business through multiple retail channels and get its products in front of younger consumers who never experienced the era of Tupperware parties.Is there fake Tupperware? ›
If they do not have the Trademark logo and the code, it is a fake, no matter how good the imitation is. Therefore, this imitation does not deserve the Tupperware lifetime warranty.
How old is vintage Tupperware? ›
Tupperware was conceived in 1946 by the company's founder Earl Tupper. Tupper's plastic containers for household use were strong while being light in weight, but they didn't sell as well in stores without demonstrations to illustrate all their useful attributes to the homemaker.Why does Tupperware have a hole? ›
The holes on food containers are for venting, not utensils.What do the symbols on the bottom of Tupperware mean? ›
The main purpose of these symbols is to represent whether your Tupperware is food safe, dishwasher safe, microwave safe, freezer safe, and the recycling information. Fortunately, most plastic jars or containers include safety instructions on the bottom, which is fantastic.What does the glass and fork mean on Tupperware? ›
Food Safe. Though Tupperware is often considered to be food safe, you shouldn't automatically assume so. Your storage containers will have the symbol of a fork and wine glass engraved into the plastic if it actually is safe to store your meals in.Can you put hot food in a Tupperware in the fridge? ›
A large pot or container of food that is hot should not be placed in the refrigerator or freezer. The hot food can raise the temperature inside the refrigerator/freezer which can be a risk for food already in the appliance.Are there Tupperware parties anymore? ›
Over the last seven decades, the retail environment has changed dramatically. But Tupperware parties will still happen too. “Younger customers less familiar with direct sales will now find our brand in retail and from there can develop personalized relationships,” Fernandez wrote.Does Tupperware exist anymore? ›
Tupperware® Official Site. Innovative Kitchen Products and More! – Tupperware US. IF YOU ARE SHOPPING THROUGH ONE OF OUR CONSULTANTS, PLEASE CONTACT THEM FOR THEIR PERSONAL WEBSITE LINK BEFORE PLACING YOUR ORDER.What does snowflake on Tupperware mean? ›
Look for a Tupperware symbol of a snowflake to check if your container can be stored in the freezer.
Basically, heat can cause the BPA and Phthalates in plastics to leach into your food. That means – yeah, sorry – you should avoid microwaving food and beverages in plastic. Instead, transfer them into microwave-safe glass or ceramic containers.When should I throw away Tupperware? ›
- It's more than 10 years old. ...
- The lid is broken or lost. ...
- It's stinky or stained. ...
- It has a weird texture. ...
- You just don't like it.
Is vintage Tupperware food safe? ›
With vintage Tupperware products, dangerous elements (read: potentially toxic chemicals) come into play. If your Tupperware is old enough, it might even leach harmful chemicals and heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and arsenic into stored food.