Wise, Brownie (1913–1992)

views updated

Wise, Brownie (1913–1992)

American entrepreneur who came up with the Tupperware party . Born in 1913 in the South and raised there; died in 1992; married at age 23 and moved to Detroit (divorced); children: one.

In 1947, when Earl Silas Tupper invented the flexible and indestructible plastic containers with the famous "Tupper seal" ("vermin and insect proof … unspillable"), there was little interest in the new product. While department store sales remained flat, Brownie Wise, a divorced single mother from Detroit, Michigan, was having great success selling the containers through Stanley Home Products. In 1948, Tupper met with Wise to discuss a new distribution plan. At that time she disclosed her merchandising strategy: the Tupperware party, a postwar version of the old quilting bee, but with the additional mission of selling a product and interesting the party-goers in becoming part of the sales force. "If we build the people, they'll build the business," Wise said. Tupperware parties became such a success that in 1951, Tupper made Wise vice president of the company, in charge of sales and distribution, and withdrew the product from stores. From that time on, sales were exclusively in-home.

The Tupperware party ultimately became a national institution, giving women in isolated suburbia an opportunity for adult companionship and a way to earn some extra money. The typical Tupperware hostess could make $25 to $30 for a two-hour party, have fun, and boost her self-esteem in the process. "When I had been with Tupperware for just two weeks," one woman said, "folks said I was no longer the shrinking violet they had once known." Wise, writes Alison Clarke, "offered women not just earning power but a measure of self-respect they weren't likely to find elsewhere."

In 1952, Tupper moved the company headquarters from Massachusetts to a 1,000-acre spread in Orlando, Florida, a site chosen by Wise. In 1958, Tupper sold the company for $9 million and retired. Wise, who once fretted over her meager wages as a secretary, was deemed a marketing genius and became the first woman ever featured on the cover of Business Week. Today, Tupperware is sold in 85 countries and has added such items as Kimono Keepers, Tortilla Keepers, and Kimchi Keepers to meet the needs of foreign markets. In the United States, the company has enhanced its existing products with Braille designations for the visually impaired. While much has changed, Brownie Wise's sales-force structure is still in place, as are her formats for sales incentives and conventions.


Clarke, Alison. Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1999.

Spake, Amanda. "Brownie Wise had one word for you: plastics," in U.S. News & World Report. October 18, 1999, p. 82.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

More From encyclopedia.com