The other night Hallie sent a message to say she was watching the PBS American Experience program on Tupperware. “Very good,” she said. Yes, I had seen it, I told her. The focus of this program is Brownie Wise and the marketing strategy she developed for Tupperware which basically brought the company out of obscurity. That history is all online for our enlightenment, but it occurred to me that Hallie has never been to a Tupperware party. Maybe she’d like to hear about Tupperware from me – from us!
It was 1960 and I was 11 when I accompanied my mother to our first Tupperware Party. If memory serves, the party was at the home of Ruth Ross, a friend and neighbor. The way the party worked was that a hostess, in this case Ruth, invited her friends and provided a dessert. The presenter arrived beforehand and set up the products she would demonstrate. Once the guests had arrived, the presenter was in control, demonstrating her wares. She also had leaflets and catalogs, including price lists. I remember the guests talking about how this phenomenon had finally reached our area. Everyone had heard about these plastic storage containers with lids that sealed, sold only at parties, never in stores.
I really don’t remember much about the presentation, but I can tell you what was included. The dealer most certainly demonstrated how to “burp” the lid in order to seal the container. And she spoke of the benefits of that seal in preserving the food – sealing the food in and odors out. The display table was full of Tupperware, and she had suggestions for how it could be used. Toward the end, she showed us the lovely gifts that would be awarded the hostess – certain items for just having the party and another prize if resulting orders totaled a certain sum. And I believe if guests signed up to host a party, the hostess received more prizes. (If you didn’t have sales resistance at this point, you could get in deeper than you wanted to be – but then, that’s life, isn’t it?)
And I remember that I won the door prize. It was a sample table decoration that might be assembled for a bridal shower using a pint container and six plastic tea spoons with curved handles. White plastic flowers were tucked into the container. It looked like a fancy little flower cart. I displayed that in my room for years until I realized it really was kinda tacky, so I took it apart and put the container and spoons in my hope chest. The useless iced tea spoons kicked around for years until I tossed them.
My mother bought a lot of pint containers at that party. Until then we stored refrigerated leftovers in bowls that we covered with elasticized plastic caps. What a nuisance those caps were! They were no fun to wash and they didn’t dry readily. The Tupper containers with lids were so much better for food storage – and stackable, too.
Over the years Mother collected more serviceable Tupper pieces, and I had quite a lot, too, but I don’t remember going to many parties. I know I received some as wedding gifts – in the ‘70s when harvest gold and avocado green were everywhere. And I have to say – for plastic, Tupperware was great quality. The round cake carrier was really large enough for your angel food cake or frosted layer cake. Or you could fit trays in it and carry 18 cupcakes. In the same trays you could carry two pies. The ones I find in the stores now are skimpy by comparison and too small to be useful. Today, of course, other companies make those plastic storage containers with lids that seal. But for years, Tupper had a corner on that market because of the patent.
I’m now gradually replacing my Tupperware with Rubbermaid. Why? Because plastic doesn’t age well. It feels tacky, or it’s brittle, and it smells funny. Frankly, I’m afraid to seal my food in it. But then – how many years ago was that? 30? 40? 50? Egads! Time to let it go.
Still – folks are looking for Tupperware. I guess it’s collectible now. The pieces that show up at the rummage sale are gone in a flash when the doors open, together with the vintage Corning “cornflower” casseroles and the sequined blouses. No, I’m not going to collect Tupperware. Someone else can have it. I love "vintage" but make mine books and patterns and dolls and fabric and . . .
[The photo above shows the few remaining Tupper pieces I found in my kitchen. The last piece I bought – in the ‘90s, I think -- is the big yellow bowl, and I bought it from a Tupperware dealer, not at a party. It’s my “really large mixing bowl” for Chex Mix and such as that.] KW