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Tupperware

by Ali Berlow

Tupperware

David Welch

With coiffed hair, an hourglass figure, wearing costume jewelry, hose and heels, Brownie Wise was a visionary way ahead of her time. Seated in her signature peacock chair at the head of the Tupperware House
Parties conference table, surrounded by male peers, it was Brownie who understood better than any of the boys at the top, the influential sway of the kitchen and the power of the housewife multiplied. This was the business that Mr. Tupper set up and gave to her in 1951 to oversee Tupperware’s sales operations and the counterpart to the manufacturing of Mr. Tupper’s trademark polyethylene kitchen containers. Inspired by the paint can, Tupper designed a unique air-tight, liquid-tight seal made with colorful, opaque moldable plastic. Nothing had even come close to extending the freshness
and shelf life of halved tomatoes, lettuce and leftovers.

Tupperware revolutionized the kitchen. But it was Brownie’s meteoric rise and charisma that launched both Brownie and plastic burping bowls into a new and distinctly
women-empowered stratosphere.

They were an odd pair. He—a gruff New England introvert and inventor who came of age during the Great Depression with millionaire dreams. She—an extrovert who was essentially single from her beginnings to her end, as executive cult-figure to a fallen idol shoved off the very pedestal built for her, and then finally, into obscurity. Yet throughout she remained always a lady. Maybe that was a sign of the times. And for the Ladies of Tupper, they had their own country club. And once back home—be it Wichita, Kan. or Fort Wayne, Ind.—the Ladies recreated their own golf courses too by converting their living rooms into sales
floors for more housewives.

Brownie grew Tupperware’s sales force into thousands. At one point the Ladies generated more demand than the factory could supply and this ignited tensions between the two that most likely hastened fissures in their relationship, behind the scenes.

It was Tupperware’s first lady who became the first woman on the cover of Business Week in 1954. Not Mr. Tupper. Brownie was the smart, sophisticated face of Tupperware until she wasn’t. Perhaps it was jealously or some seven-year itch between beauty and inventor, no one can really say but she was fired abruptly in 1958. No reasons were given. Thirty-file thousand dollars later, all traces of her involvement in Tupperware
were purged. It was as if she didn’t exist.

That same year, Mr. Tupper sold his company for millions. They lived out the rest of their lives apart and in relative obscurity. Earl Tupper died in 1983, Brownie Wise in 1992. In the end, her glass ceiling was not at all glass. It was plastic and it didn’t “crack, peel, chip or break” either.