February 10, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Earl Tupper

When Brownie Wise received her first plastic Tupper “Wonder Bowl” it took her three days to figure out how to work the seal. Then, once she got the bowl sealed, she dropped it as she was putting it in the refrigerator. But instead of breaking the bowl bounced. And the stubborn seal kept the contents from spilling. The world was about to discover plastic.

Earl Silas Tupper became convinced that plastic was “the material of the future” when he worked with polymers in a DuPont chemical plant during the Depression. Born and raised on a rural New Hampshire farm in 1907 Tupper always fancied himself an inventor imbued with Yankee ingenuity. So he left Du Pont to form the Tupper Plastics Company in 1938.

Nothing much happened for a few years and then World War II forced the government to restrict distribution of critical raw materials. Tupper’s experiments with plastics could only continue when he obtained some leftover material from his former employer, a chunk of rock-hard, putrid polyethylene slag. Tupper worked with the black slag until he developed a purifying refining process. He also pioneered an injection-molding machine which produced the first unbreakable plastic. The first of what would grow to be more than 400 Tupperware products was a seven-ounce tumbler.

Some of Tupper’s creations were busts. Americans would never see his plastic shoe heels but they would come to know his food containers. Plastic was viewed with suspicion by consumers in the 1940s; quality was inconsistent and no one saw the urgency to switch from comfortable glass. It was Tupper’s seal that broke down consumer resistance.

He modeled his airtight seal after a paint can, flaring the rim out slightly and molding the lid to lock onto it. When the air inside was “burped” out a partial vacuum was created and the food inside would not dry out in Americans’ new refrigerators. This is what Brownie Wise discovered in her own kitchen.

Tupper first sold his containers through hardware stores and catalogs when they were introduced in 1945. He then began to tap into the popular home demonstration parties after World War II. Wise was a Stanley Home Products distributor when she started to buy Tupper’s plastic containers from her wholesalers. When shipments were delayed one day in 1949 she called Tupper directly to complain. By the time he put down the phone he had made her director of a new home-sales program.

Wise was so energetic, so positive, so successful that Tupper pulled his products from store shelves and sold exlusively through direct sellers. In 1951 Tupper Plastics became Tupperware Home Parties. When Wise took over there were some 200 independent dealers in Tupper’s sales system. Three years later there were 9000 and $25 million in sales.

Tupperware was strong and elegant in its simplicity. Tupper used only the best raw materials and adhered to the strictest tolerances in his molds. Tupper was so exacting in his manufacturing specifications that he sold his products with a lifetime warranty. The only receipt a customer ever needed to replace a defective product was the name Tupperware on the container.

In 1958 Wise left the company and Tupper sold the business to Rexall Drugs for $9 million. He retired to Costa Rica and by the time Earl Tupper died in 1983 it was estimated that Tupperware could be found in 90% of all American homes.

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