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Tupperware Parties: Suburban Women's Plastic Path to Empowerment

March 1, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

If you peeked into a suburban living room in the 1950s, you might see a group of women in funny hats playing party games, tossing lightweight plastic bowls back and forth and chatting about their lives as they passed around an order form for Tupperware.

Well stocked with punch and cookies, the daytime parties were well mannered affairs. But Tupperware parties were more than they might seem. Although they engaged in lighthearted socializing at living rooms, Tupperware party organizers were running thriving, woman-owned businesses. And the women who participated in them weren’t just stocking their homes: they were experimenting with cutting-edge technology that helped food stay fresh for longer. During the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of women started their own home businesses selling Tupperware, breaking gender stereotypes even as they reinforced them.

The Tupperware Home Parties of the 1950s and 1960s were the only way to purchase a line of polyethylene plastic storage containers that were the brainchild of Earl Tupper, a Massachusetts businessman who figured out a way to turn an industrial byproduct into an improvement on plastic he called Poly-T. Tupper introduced Tupperware after World War II. But at first, nobody understood what they were or how to use them. It would take an ambitious woman—and an army of amateur salespeople—to sell the innovative containers to America.

Tupperware was developed by an American, Earl Tupper, in the mid 1940s. Tupperware Parties’ in the 50s and 60s were a way of marketing the product directly to women.

Tupperware looked nothing like the plasticware that was in most women’s kitchens. At first, homemakers were wary of a material they associated with bad smells, a weirdly oily texture and cheap construction. The bowls’ most unique feature was also what held it back initially: the airtight lids wouldn’t seal unless they were “burped” beforehand, and that confused consumers, who returned them to stores claiming the lids didn’t fit.

The businessman needed a new sales strategy, and quick. Around the time that Tupper invented Poly-T, a cleaning products company called Stanley Home had debuted the “home party,” a new method of selling products directly to housewives. Stanley Home parties were a chance for women to buy products from salespeople in their home, not their doorstep, and to do so along with their friends.

One of Stanley Home’s salespeople, Brownie Wise, quickly saw the potential of the method to sell more than …read more


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