Earl Tupper was born in Berlin, N.H., in 1907. His family moved to Massachusetts, where Earl was raised in Lowell. After a failed stab at a tree maintenance business, by 1946 Earl was working at his own Leominster plastics firm. At the end of World War II, DuPont had distributed blocks of polyethylene that it mass produced for war uses to plastics companies in hopes of finding new uses for the material.
Tupper had a stroke of genius. He contacted DuPont and asked if they would send him a sample of the polyethylene before they added stiffening agents to it. The pliable plastic was exactly what he was looking for, and he shaped it into sealable food storage containers: Tupperware.
Tupper had his plastic bowls selling in hardware and department stores, but sales were slow – everywhere except one little Florida company that couldn’t get enough of his bowls. Why, he wondered, and so he contacted the company called Tupperware Patio Parties, which was run by Brownie Wise.
Brownie Wise was Tupper’s opposite. She was outgoing and vivacious. Born and raised in Georgia, she had married a Ford executive and moved to Dearborn, Mich. There, her marriage soured and she divorced.
Working as a sales representative for Stanley Home Products, a Massachusetts-based company that sold cleaning goods through in-home sales parties, Wise quickly spotted the opportunity Tupper was missing.
His product needed a personal touch for people to understand it. At an in-home party, the product could be thrown on the floor, to demonstrate its durability; tossed around, to show how light it was; and the Tupperware ‘burp’ that seals in the flavor of food could be demonstrated firsthand.
Brownie moved to Florida and started her patio parties company. That was when Earl noticed how much product she was moving. During their first phone conversation, Earl invited Brownie to visit him in Massachusetts. Once they met, he knew she was right.
In the home, there would be no inhibitions or distractions. Housewives could picture his modernistic designs right in their own kitchens. And the sales force was there for the asking.
After getting a taste of economic freedom during World War II, many women wanted something other than homemaking. Tupperware sales parties were perfect.
Earl and Brownie created Tupperware Home Parties Inc., and Brownie became vice president. Earl would make the product, Brownie would sell it.
Over the course of several years, Brownie created a whole new type of sales network, one that relied on fun sales conventions -- jubilees, she called them -- that were filled with skits and awards. Blenders and other kinds of incentives were added to the commissions, and a whole new type of sales structure rose up. Brownie’s all-woman sales force – taken for granted at home – reveled in the praise and celebrations at their annual ‘sales jubilees.’
By 1958, business was booming. If only Brownie and Earl had been able to continue their partnership, we can only wonder what might have been. Instead, she got bossy and arrogant. He got jealous and testy. Even though he paid to promote Brownie’s image as a whole new style of female executive, he was jealous when people started viewing her as the reason for Tupperware’s success.
So, without notice, Earl fired her and he sold the company to Rexall Drug Stores. He divorced and moved to Costa Rica in a move to avoid taxes. Tupperware rolled right along without him or her.
At first, Rexall talked of scrapping Brownie Wise’s innovations like the sales jubilee. But employee after employee informed the new company president that such a move would be a disaster. Rexall backed off and didn’t mess with success.
Tupperware Brands sales totaled $2.7 billion in 2013, and women are still holding parties and attending jubilees in countries around the world.