- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
In 1946 a Massachusetts DuPont chemist-inventor named Earl Tupper introduced “Poly-T Wonder Bowls.” They were polyethelene food-storage containers that varied in size and came in unusual pastel hues.
His products — called Tupperware — offered a unique new feature: an airtight cover that Tupper had based on the design of a paint-can lid.
But Tupperware retail sales proved middling at best, as shoppers often failed to understand or appreciate the lid design.
Enter savvy Brownie Wise, a Georgia-based single mother who reigned as the top salesperson for Stanley House Products. Her success derived from the home parties she had created and hosted to sell Stanley’s products.
Wise envisioned greater earnings for herself — and perhaps an executive position — with Tupperware. In 1950 she hired on with Earl Tupper, moved to his Orlando home base, and developed a home-party approach that would bring the company a fortune.
Wise convinced Tupper to abandon the retail market and focus exclusively on home parties. A Brownie bash meant women inviting others over for an evening of fun and games — and lots of purchases.
At her parties, Wise, who kept the mood light but always focused on the products, would sometimes toss a juice-filled Tupperware bowl across a room to demonstrate the security of the vacuum-sealed lid.
In 1951, after witnessing Wise’s record-setting sales, Tupper promoted Wise to vice president of Tupperware Home Parties. She eventually trained thousands of women to become party hosts themselves. Under her guidance, they could each earn up to $100 a week, much more than a mid-1950s secretary, nurse, or teacher could make.
Wise kept sales-force motivation high by offering exciting (and often unusual) incentives. Each year she hosted a Homecoming Jubilee at the company’s Florida headquarters. Festivities included treasure hunts with prizes such as furs — and reportedly even cars — hidden on the company grounds.
Top sales ladies were awarded such high-end items as speedboats, appliances, and vacations. Lavish parties, extravagant shows, and adrenaline-fueled pep talks were always part of the four days of fun.
Wise’s success led her to become a household name. She showed up frequently on TV and in magazine and newspaper articles. In 1954 she appeared on the cover of Business Week, the first woman ever to do so.
That same year Tupperware enjoyed record sales of $25 million — about $250 million in today’s money.
But storm clouds were gathering at company headquarters. To Earl Tupper’s way of thinking, Wise’s widespread fame had shifted attention away from his Tupperware products themselves.
In 1958 Tupper solved his “problem” by firing Wise — the very person responsible for Tupperware’s runaway success. Since she owned no stock, Wise was left with only a severance package of one year’s salary: $30,000.
Tupper then proceeded to expunge her name from every bit of Tupperware company literature.
Wise later began an ill-fated party-plan cosmetics company called Cinderella and eventually faded into obscurity.
But her influence lives on to this day; Tupperware remains a billion-dollar industry, with a fun-filled Brownie-style party starting somewhere worldwide every 1.4 seconds.
Although Randal C. Hill's heart lives in the past, the rest of him resides in Bandon, Ore. He can be reached at email@example.com.