Cover image for Tupperware : the promise of plastic in 1950s America
Tupperware : the promise of plastic in 1950s America
Clarke, Alison J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, DC : Smithsonian Institution Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 241 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


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Home Location
Item Holds
HD9662.C664 T863 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From Wonder Bowls to Ice-Tup molds to Party Susans, Tupperware has become an icon of suburban living. Invented by Earl Tupper in the 1940 to promote thrift and cleanliness, the pastel plasticwares were touted as an essential to postwar lifestyle that emphasized casual entertaining and celebrated America's material abundance. By the mid-1950s the Tupperware party, which gathered women in a hostess's home for lively product demonstrations and sales, was the foundation of a multimillion-dollar business that proved as innovative as the containers themselves.

Author Notes

Alison J. Clarke is tutor in design history and material culture at the Royal College of Art, London, and visiting professor of design history and theory at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

TupperwareÄthe product line of brightly colored, polyethylene containers for leftover foodsÄhas toppled from its iconic role as the hallmark of the modern kitchen to fodder for jokes on Seinfeld. Yet since the late 1940s, when it was invented by Earl Tupper (who envisioned the product as both an emblem and agent of postwar household cleanliness and thrift), Tupperware has changed the lives of millions of women who not only used it but found personal and economic freedom as Tupperware salespeople. Clarke's lucid and fascinating social history explicates a host of complex ideas: the ethical and moral meanings of "modern" design in postwar America; the economic and social conflicts that women faced in the 1950s; how suburban living affected consumer culture; the history of door-to-door sales; and the corporate and gender politics of marketing. At the heart of her wonderfully detailed narrative is the story of Brownie Wise, a divorced single parent from Detroit who originated the "Tupperware party," eventually becoming a vice-president of the corporation. Along the way, Wise made herself and the Tupper Corporation a fortune by selling women the dichotomized ideal of the perfect housewife who runs a perfect business. Clarke writes entertainingly even while delivering enormous amounts of information. Using Tupperware as both a symbol and artifact, she provides a provocative cultural and feminist history of the second half of the 20th century. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Clarke, a tutor in design history and modern culture at the Royal College of Art in London, "explores the processes by which objects of mass consumption are appropriated as meaningful artifacts of everyday life." Tupperware owed its design and construction to Earl Tupper, an indefatigable Yankee inventor. But the phenomenal popularity of Tupperware plastic containers came only in the 1950s, when Brownie Wise innovated the Tupperware home party. To explain the burgeoning sales of this plastic commodity, the author highlights the creation of a highly motivated and largely female sales force and identifies the "shifting discourses" of consumption. Particular attention is paid to the role of gender in both the sale and purchase of these brilliantly designed housewares. Aimed at an academic audience, Tupperware is recommended for advanced students in the history of material culture, gender, and business. D. Lindstrom; University of Wisconsin--Madison



[Earl] Tupper's choice of [Brownie] Wise to organize the new distribution scheme proved fundamental to the success of Tupperware. Dynamic and capable, she convinced Tupper that the key to the success of the product lay in her imaginative and tenacious approach to party plan sales and her understanding of women's needs as housewives, consumers, and part-time workers. The success of her own company, Patio Parties, which as the name suggests appealed to leisurely, suburbun notions of modern living, certainly substantiated her claims. Wise and her mother, Rose Humphrey, organized hostess parties to sell goods as diverse as the "ketchup pump," "the ashtray with a brain," and "Atomite: the cleaner with ATOMIC-like action." As an ideal gift and novelty with contemporary design appeal, Tupperware perfectly suited Wise's clever buying policy. Like the hostess party gatherings themselves, the products that she chose appealed to a new-found modernity. Items such as the hand-size "Sunny" featherweight hair dryer (available in "colors as pretty as your cosmetic box: capri, coral, bermuda blue, sahara sand") invoked a provocative allure to a home shampoo; easily mountable on the wall "for those last-minute dashes, 'Sunny' will dry your hair as you polish your nails and then dry your nails, too!" Wise's immense business acumen and intuitive understanding of feminine popular culture, gift-giving, and attainable glamour would carry the hostess party, and Tupperware, to new dimensions. Excerpted from Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America by Alison J. Clarke All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 "To Be a Better Social Friend": Designing for a Moral Economyp. 8
2 Tupperware: The Creation of a Modernist Icon?p. 36
3 "Poly-T: Material of the Future": A Gift of Modernityp. 56
4 "The Hostess with the Mostest": The Origins of the Home Party Planp. 78
5 "Parties Are the Answer": The Ascent of the Tupperware Partyp. 101
6 "Faith Made Them Champions": The Feminization of Positive Thinkingp. 128
7 "A Wealth of Wishes and a Galaxy of Gifts": The Politics of Consumptionp. 156
8 "Tupperware--Everywhere!": The Globalization of Tupperwarep. 185
Conclusionp. 197
Notesp. 203
Indexp. 235