The Rise and Fall of Brownie Wise
August 20, 2014 5:02 AM   Subscribe

In the 1951, impressed by the amount of Tupperware she was selling (especially compared to other outlets), Earl Tupper hired Brownie Wise to run his sales organization. As a VP of the company, she revolutionized Tupperware with her Tupperware parties, her salesforce management, and other sales and marketing techniques, thus allowing him to stay in the background, creating new designs. Sales skyrocketed and Tupperware became popular throughout the United States.

PBS's spritely American Experience: Tupperware! (51 minutes; lots of video from parties, jubilees, and interviews with Tupperware distributors) took a look at the iconic plastic storage ware, the company that made them, and the women who built the company (and the men who held down all the top jobs except Brownie's). If you don't have an hour to spare, here's a summary of the corporate history.

Earl Tupper retained control of the company, and in 1958, he fired Wise - despite sales at record highs. They had been at loggerheads for a while, arguing over direction, expenses, attitude, control, communication, manufacturing, and her popularity. He sold the company a year later.

You can see vintage catalogs, postcards, ephemera, and other product material at Tupperdiva. Vintage Tupperware (on flickr) has become increasingly collectible (or reimagined), while modern Tupperware sales are happening (WSJ) around the world
posted by julen (21 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I spent most of my childhood drinking out of cups colored brown, harvest gold, and avacado green. I wonder how well they are doing these days with the rise of the disposable plastic containers.

For some reason, I was horribly disappointed when I discovered that a large plastic bowl that I had used as a kid and now have was actually Rubbermaid.

I drive past their HQ in Orlando once in a while, and the building looks like it hasn't changed since at least the 70's.
posted by Badgermann at 5:29 AM on August 20, 2014

Tupperware really had/has some clever products that were all around the kitchen when I was growing up; I'm pretty sure my mom has some that are in their 4th decade of use. And just about every child I know has had one of these, even today. But after seeing the American Experience documentary when it was broadcast a few years ago I feel a little guilty about using Tupperware products knowing how shoddily Brownie Wise was treated.
posted by TedW at 5:37 AM on August 20, 2014

We got most of our storage containers from Ikea, plus the occasional disposable that we don't actually dispose of. But we still call all of them "tupperware." I just assumed the company disappeared along with Mary Kay (also apparently still thriving) - cool to see they're still around.

This sorting toy was one of my son's favorites after having been one of mine - I love that it doesn't seem to have changed any.
posted by Mchelly at 5:37 AM on August 20, 2014

Tupperware parties were the new hotness about two years ago in my immigrant neighborhood. Instead of hosting parties inside the home, people would have them on their stoops.

There's still a market for them!
posted by phunniemee at 6:08 AM on August 20, 2014

Brownie Wise's story would make a great Hollywood movie. Granted I don't trust Hollywood not to muck it up. See, well, everything, but I was thinking specifically of Ms. Travers' treatment in the Saving Mr. Banks movie, but still, it's a great story and I hope more people learn about her accomplishments.
posted by dawg-proud at 6:12 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Tupperware parties were a thing even in Sweden in the eighties. I have fond childhood memories from the containers (the shapes, the colors!) but vintage plastic makes me uncomfortable so I'm hesitant picking the up from second hand stores. Is the anti-plastic lobby getting to me or are there any real health hazards handling food in plastic that is sometimes older than me?
posted by mnsc at 6:15 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sealed with a Whisper (photo: An advertisement for Tupperware from 1971)

My mother had every one of the items in this photo, except the blue & red thingy at upper left, which according to this and these is some kind of toy.

Polyethylene Slag

I think we were in a punk band together for about three minutes in the late 1970s.
posted by Herodios at 6:19 AM on August 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

The Shape-O toy is one of the icons of my childhood.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:48 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't been to a Tupperware party since I was dragged along to my last in primary school, and yet my one year old son has a Shape-o ball that he's obsessed with. I have at least two vintage 70s era containers from gods know where. It was just everywhere, even here in Australia.
posted by Jilder at 6:58 AM on August 20, 2014

dawg-proud: AV Club reported on a Brownie Wise story movie in develpment (to star Sandra Bullock) earlier this year. Variety confirmation.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:00 AM on August 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm trying to come up with a more graceful transition but I can't, so: let's not forget Lotus Mort, first female warrant officer in the Marines and a Tupperware saleslady par excellence.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2014

What happened to Brownie Wise is a tragedy.
posted by infini at 9:10 AM on August 20, 2014

I had both the Shape-O and Zoo it Yourself toys as a young lad.

I have vague recollection of at least one tupperware party in my parents' living room.
posted by Fleebnork at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2014

If you want to have a heck of a good time, check out one of Tupperware's top sales ladies Dixie Longate when she's in your area. The show is hilarious, and she will actually sell you Tupperware at the end of it.

Brilliant mix of theater, drag sensibility, and marketing.
posted by hippybear at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

My mom was a Pampered Chef lady for a time. I was also surprised to learn recently that Mary Kay and Avon still operated under similar business methods.
posted by Night_owl at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2014

I spent most of my childhood drinking out of cups colored brown, harvest gold, and avacado green. I wonder how well they are doing these days with the rise of the disposable plastic containers.

Our set also had a burnt orange; I assume you did too, or it was lost.

Anyway, we had that set of tumblers, and the avocado green was universally loathed. Naturally, it meant that my sister and I spent years coming up with ways to ensure the other was irrevocably stuck with "the green cup" at dinner. A lot of it involved setting the table and then somehow delaying the other's arrival at the table until all the other cups had been filled and drunk from so that no late switching could take place.

Ah, childhood. And the teen years. And if my mom still had those cups, I'm sure we'd still battle over who got stuck with it.

I think I should get a set of those off of e-bay and give them to my sister for her birthday.
posted by Ickster at 11:12 AM on August 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

Nice post! I would add...

Tupperware! A film by Laurie Kahn who also made A Midwife's Tale and the upcoming Love Between the Covers - a look into the community & commerce of romance novels. Something that I am very much looking forward to watching!

And, damn I miss those Tupperware orange peelers! True, they belonged to her... breaking up is hard, etc...
posted by shoesfullofdust at 6:08 PM on August 20, 2014

I remember my mother having a Tupperware party when I was a kid, back in the 70's. She sold enough to get to buy some stuff from her profits. That was the deal. She didn't get actual money for having a party, she got credit with Tupperware, at least that's how I remember it. That was the only party she had. My mother also later had friends that sold Amway, but she refused to get involved after her experience with Tupperware. Good product or not, it just wasn't worth the effort of having a party at her house for the advertised benefits. She just decided she'd either buy the stuff when other people had parties, or just get whatever the store was selling.

Nowadays, with the internet and all, it's hard to imagine these things having a life, but I imagine they do somehow. The parties must be social gatherings for people somehow...
posted by Eekacat at 7:43 PM on August 20, 2014

Eekacat: "The parties must be social gatherings for people somehow..."

They definitely were in the enlisted military neighborhoods I grew up in the 80s. In addition to Tupperware & Mary Kay, there was Home Interior, which my mom spent a (relative) fortune on over the years. One of family friends was all about Tri-Chem, which I cannot believe is still in business.
posted by bluesapphires at 8:08 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

What a fascinating and tragic story. Thanks for posting this.

Also, after watching her promo video [Warning: Language], I'm sorry that Dixie Longate isn't going to appear near me anytime soon.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:18 PM on August 20, 2014

I went to a Tupperware party a few weeks ago and intend to buy a pantry's worth later this year. My mum and grandmother still have some Tupperware going strong.
posted by poxandplague at 11:42 PM on August 20, 2014

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