An Unlikely Sales Force Creates an Empire 

Only it wasn’t called Tupperware then. His first product was called the Wonderbowl. It languished on store shelves because Tupper didn’t know diddly about marketing.

What Tupper needed was somebody who could sell his product. It took her a while to find him. Brownie Wise was a young single mother who had never gone to high school — but had good common sense. In 1947, she ran across a Wonderbowl. It took her four years to get around to making an appointment with Tupper, but when she met him she told him his bowls should be sold by housewives at neighborhood parties, not in stores.

The two teamed up and created an empire that was worth $16 million when Tupper sold it in 1958.

What makes the Tupperware narrative interesting, however, is the story behind the story — how Wise trained an army of saleswomen to sell Tupperware and motivated them with gala annual costume-party conventions and gifts of European vacations and minks. And how Tupper eventually grew tired of everybody thinking Wise had built his company. And how he fired her in 1958 and gave her a paltry $35,000 severance check.

“Tupperware” airs Monday, Feb. 9, on PBS-TV. Narrated by Kathy Bates, it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes at a plastics juggernaut, at a mutual respect that turned to mistrust, and at one man’s invention that even today is displayed every 2.5 seconds at a Tupperware party somewhere in the world. — Don Dale

“Tupperware” airs Monday, Feb. 9, on PBS-TV.

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