Tupperware™ is a household name in food storage, but there’s a lot you may not know about this decades-old container company.
1. TUPPERWARE™ GETS ITS NAME FROM CREATOR EARL TUPPER.
The famed storage containers weren't named at random. Inventor Earl Tupper branded the plastic sets with his own name after years of working with plastic and decades of flopped inventions. Tupper was a prolific innovator who had begun his own business, Tupper Tree Doctors, to help him in his goal to become a millionaire at age 30, while also supporting his wife and five children. After business dried up with the Great Depression, Tupper landed a job at a plastics factory in Leominster, Massachusetts. The new gig inspired him to venture out on his own and mold the then-new material into beads and plastic cigarette containers. By the late 1940s, Tupper’s experiments produced the first Tupperware™ bowls—called Wonderbowls.
2. TUPPER CREATED A NAIL DESIGN KIT THAT WAS AHEAD OF ITS TIME.
Tupper didn’t just create food storage solutions. He was a serial inventor and his notebooks (which have been digitized and are stored at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History) feature dozens of ideas meant to solve everyday problems. Tupper thought up no-drip ice cream cones, more comfortable corsets, fishing poles that weighed your catch as it was reeled in, and even a fish-propelled boat. One of Tupper’s ideas prior to Tupperware™ was his nail design kit. Created in 1937, the kits included tiny, plastic embellishments that could be glued on for dazzling manicures. While friends and family enjoyed the kits, they never went to market.
3. TUPPER'S EARLY BOWLS WERE WORKS OF ART.
Tupper focused heavily the Wonderbowl’s design, working to create an elegant piece of dishware that stood out from other kitchen items sold in stores. Initially, the Wonderbowl snagged accolades and won several design contests. By 1956, Tupper’s plastic products were even on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art. For some time, Tupper even had a Fifth Avenue retail spot for his innovative food storage bowls.
4. THE STORAGE CONTAINERS WERE INITIALLY A FLOP.
While Tupper was a clever inventor, he wasn’t the best at marketing. In its early days, Tupperware™ struggled at its Fifth Avenue store and catalogue sales slumped. Even with a good idea, Tupper’s salesman skills weren’t strong. His previously invented "Sure-Stay" bobby pins offered superior grip to other hairpins, but Tupper’s awkward ad copy didn’t make the sale: "Many women wear more or less false hair. Wigs cost good money, and romance or social prestige often hangs by the hairs on one’s head. A good 'Sure-Stay' hairpin is needed." Early Tupperware™ suffered similar slumping sales as Tupper’s other oddly marketed products.
5. A MOM-TURNED-SALESWOMAN SAVED TUPPERWARE™.
Tupper believed he had created a useful piece of art for the modern housewife, but he knew his efforts weren’t helping the products sell. And if it weren’t for Brownie Wise, a divorced single mom with an eighth-grade education and expert sales skills, Tupperware™ wouldn’t have become a household name. Despite being a successful saleswoman for Stanley Home Products, Wise knew she had no future with the company after being told "management is no place for a woman." After encountering Tupperware™, Wise quit selling brooms in 1949 and picked up plastic storage containers. That same year, she sold $150,000 worth of Tupperware™ and became a distributor for the state of Florida. After several years of sales, Wise called up Tupper to express her dismay about the downsides of the company, namely incorrect orders and shipping delays. Within a month, the two met and Wise gave Tupper the secret to her success and Tupperware’s™ future: home party sales.
6. BROWNIE WISE JUMP-STARTED THE HOME PARTY SALES.
Soon after Tupper met with Wise, she was offered a leadership role unusual for a woman in the 1950s: Vice President of Tupperware™. Wise’s grand idea for Tupperware’s™ success wasn’t her own. Her former employer, Stanley Home Products, only sold its goods through home parties at a time when many sales companies still sold door-to-door. But, she used the sales tactic to Tupperware’s™ advantage, successfully transforming the company into a thriving home goods company and changing the way retailers of the time made sales. Within Wise’s first year as vice president, Tupperware™ orders surpassed $2 million, all because of the home party idea. At the heart of it, she knew it was the small people along the Tupperware™ chain that made the company successful: "Build the people and they’ll build the business."
7. EARLY TUPPERWARE™ SELLERS DIDN'T SELL—THEY DATED PARTIES.
Selling Tupperware™ was a viable side job for many stay-at-home mothers and housewives of the 1950s, '60s, and beyond. Hawking these plastic containers and tools required little specialty training and could be scaled up or down based on a woman’s schedule. But Tupperware™ made it clear that its saleswomen—called dealers or consultants—weren't scheduling sales pitches, they were "dating" parties (which even today Tupperware™ explains as "a.k.a. scheduling"). The goal was to create an atmosphere of fun complete with games, such as one where guests won Tupperware™ miniatures for writing the best sales ad for their husbands.
8. TOP TUPPERWARE™ SELLERS ROPED IN THEIR HUSBANDS.
While most Tupperware™ sellers were women, those who did exceptionally well got their husbands involved. Top Tupperware™ dealers quickly rose through the ranks and could be promoted from dealer to manager, which had perks such as additional commission, features in the company newsletter and prizes at the annual Tupperware™ Jubilee. But women who excelled at manager status could become a regional distributor, tasked with overseeing Tupperware™ sales and operations in their area. Because of social conventions of the time—and the difficulty for women to get their own business loans or have a bank account—married women were only awarded a distributor role if their husbands agreed to quit their day jobs and join their wives full-time.
9. WISE LOVED TO REWARD TUPPERWARE™ SELLERS WITH EXTRAVAGANT PRIZES.
As part of fostering Tupperware’s™ hardest workers, Wise launched the annual Tupperware™ Home Parties Jubilee, a gathering of top hostesses, managers, and distributors. With exotic themes such as "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Arabian Nights," Tupperware’s™ best won German clocks, fur stoles and coats, Chinese carvings, and entire wardrobes packed with clothing. At the first Jubilee in 1954, Wise ran with a gold rush theme that led to attendees digging up buried prizes.
10. ONE TUPPERWARE™ JUBILEE LED TO COUNTLESS LAWSUITS.
The 1957 Tupperware™ Jubilee went horribly awry due to dangerous weather. Wise planned an island party but when a thunderstorm threatened the beach luau, a panicked rush by the 1200 guests led to several boat accidents and 21 injured attendees. Tupperware™ spent several years in and out of courtrooms handling injury lawsuits.
11. TUPPERWARE'S™ SECRET WAS IN THE BURP.
The key to perfect food preservation lies in the Tupperware™ "burp," the process of closing the lid and reopening a small portion to let out any remaining air. Earl Tupper's idea for lid burping came from the practice of closing paint cans with the intention of creating an airtight seal. But, the burping process wasn’t easy for everyone, such as people with disabilities or difficulty using their hands. Tupperware™ introduced its Instant Seals line in the 1960s, featuring containers that could be closed with the push of a finger.
12. TUPPERWARE™ CREATED ITS OWN TOY.
At the height of Tupperware™ mania, the company began to sample plastic products outside of dishware, such as drawer organizers, portable lap desks, and fly swatters. With the baby boom well underway, Tupperware™ set out to create its own toy in the 1960s—the Shape-O. Kids have been popping geometric shapes into this large red and blue ball ever since.
13. TUPPERWARE™ CONTAINERS ARE IMPRINTED WITH BRAILLE.
In 1993, Tupperware™ looked to make food storage more accessible for people with visual impairments. The company launched its CrystalWave line in the early 1990s, including Braille on the bottom of containers to indicate volume.
14. BROWNIE WISE AND EARL TUPPER DIDN'T END ON GOOD TERMS.
While Tupperware™ has gone on to become a staple in kitchens nationwide, the team that made it a household staple wasn't nearly so indestructible. While Tupper and Wise didn’t always get along, their teamwork helped grow the company and its products. But by 1958, Tupper allegedly had enough of Wise’s ideas, extravagant spending and reputation as the "First Lady of Tupperware™"—not to mention the previous year's Jubilee disaster. Tupper supposedly told top Tupperware™ executives that he'd "had enough of Brownie Wise" and planned to fire her. Wise had no stock in the company and after battling Tupper in court, received one year’s salary as severance pay. Wise went on to dabble in her own home party cosmetics companies, though never found the same level of success as she had with Tupperware™. Tupper sold Tupperware™ within a year for $16 million, divorced his wife, and moved to Costa Rica. He died there in 1983; Wise died in 1992.
15. VINTAGE TUPPERWARE™ IS A HOT COLLECTIBLE.
Tupperware™ styles have changed with each decade to reflect new ideas, color schemes, and food storage needs. Older containers have become common collectibles and many sets, such as the iconic Wonderlier Bowls manufactured throughout the 1960s, sell for nearly $45 per set. Even the Smithsonian has its own stash of more than 100 Tupperware™ pieces, dating between 1946 and 1999. Who knew your fridge was housing such an important part of pop culture? Just make sure you don't lose any lids.