Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America

Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America

by Alison J. Clarke

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Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America by Alison J. Clarke

From Wonder Bowls to Ice-Tup molds to Party Susans, Tupperware has become an icon of suburban living. Tracing the fortunes of Earl Tupper's polyethylene containers from early design to global distribution, Alison J. Clarke explains how Tupperware tapped into potent commercial and social forces, becoming a prevailing symbol of late twentieth-century consumer culture.

Invented by Earl Tupper in the 1940s to promote thrift and cleanliness, the pastel plasticwares were touted as essential to a 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. Clarke shows how the “party plan” direct sales system, by creating a corporate culture based on women's domestic lives, played a greater role than patented seals and streamlined design in the success of Tupperware.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781560989202
Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
Publication date: 02/28/2001
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 734,598
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Alison J. Clarke is professor and chair of Design History and Theory at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and research director of the Victor J. Papanek Foundation, which promotes socially-aware design. She was formerly a Smithsonian Fellow of History.

Read an Excerpt

[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.

Table of Contents

1"To Be a Better Social Friend" Designing for a Moral Economy8
2Tupperware The Creation of a Modernist Icon?36
3"Poly-T: Material of the Future" A Gift of Modernity56
4"The Hostess with the Mostest" The Origins of the Home Party Plan78
5"Parties Are the Answer" The Ascent of the Tupperware Party101
6"Faith Made Them Champions" The Feminization of Positive Thinking128
7"A Wealth of Wishes and Galaxy of Gifts" The Politics of Consumption156
8"Tupperware--Everywhere!" The Globalization of Tupperware185

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