|Fascinating facts about Earl Tupper
inventor of Tupperware® in 1945.
invent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
1907 in Berlin, New Hampshire.
1983 in Costa Rica
|Earl Silas Tupper was born in 1907, to a New Hampshire farming family of
modest means. During his youth and boyhood in New England, his mother Lulu Clark Tupper,
took in laundry and ran a boarding house, while his father, Earnest Leslie operated a
small family farm. Earnest Tupper loved to tinker, developing labor-saving devices for the
farm and family greehouses; one of his devices, a frame to faciliate the cleaning of
chickens, was granted a patent. It is from his father that Earl Tupper is said to have
developed a love for invention. Even as a boy, Tupper showed an enterprising and
entreprenuerial spirit. At the age of 10, Earl discovered he could move more of the
family's produce by selling door-to-door, bringing the product directly to the customer.
After high school graduation in 1925, Tupper continued to work in the family greenhouses
in Shirley Massachusetts for two years. Tupper was an ambitious young man, though, and he
was was determined to earn his first million by the time he was thirty. During the
twenties, he set out on a number of different paths, including work as a mail clerk and on
a railroad labor crew. In 1928, he took a course in tree surgery, with the idea of setting
up his own tree surgery and landscaping business. He continued to help out with the family
business, and got married in 1931. Through the early thirties, the landscaping and nursery
business contined to grow and thrive, despite the Depression, enabling Tupper to pursue
some of his ideas and inventions. His scientific notebooks for this period reflect the
diversity of his interests. Even after Tupper Tree Doctors was forced into bankruptcy in
1936, Tupper remained optimistic about his ability to develop and manufacture some of his
In 1936, Tupper met Bernard Doyle, the inventor of
Viscoloid, the plastics manufacturing division of DuPont, located in nearby Leominster,
Mass. He went to work for DuPont in 1937, but stayed there only one year. Later, Tupper
would say it was at Dupont "that my education really began." Tupper took the
experience he had gained in plastics design and manufacturing at DuPont, and struck out on
his own. In 1938, he formed the Earl S. Tupper Company, advertising the design and
engineering of industrial plastics products in Leominster, Massachusetts. Much of the
fledgling company's early work was performed under subcontract to DuPont. Business was
good during the war, because despite the difficulty of acquiring the raw materials
necessary for plastics production for the domestic market, Tupper Plastics was able to
garner several defense contracts, molding parts for gas masks and Navy signal lamps. After
the war, Tupper turned his attention to developing plastics for the growing consumer
market. Many of his earliest designs, which included plastic sandwich picks, cigarette
cases, and an unbreakable tumbler for the bathroom, were offered as premiums with other
products. For example, Tek toothbrushes offered the tumbler with purchase of a toothbrush,
and cigarette companies and other businesses offered cigarette cases imprinted with their
Plastics was still in its infancy in the forties, and the commercial
market for plastics product was limited by plastic's reputation for being brittle, greasy,
smelly and generally unreliable. Tupper's contributions were twofold. First, he developed
a method for purifying black polyethylene slag, a waste product produced in oil
refinement, into a substance that was flexible, tough, non-porous, non-greasy and
translucent. Second, he developed the Tupper seal, an airtight, watertight lid modeled on
the lid for paint containers. Together, these innovations laid the foundations for the
future success of Tupperware. Nevertheless, marketing the new product presented a
challenge. Tupper experimented with department store sales, but as Businessweek reported
in 1954, "in retail stores it fell flat on its face." It seemed clear that the
new lid required explanation or demonstration.
In the late 1940s, Thomas Damigella (in Massachusetts) and Brownie
Wise (in Florida) were selling household products through Stanley Home Products.
Purchasing through local plastics distributors, both began offering Tupperware as part of
their product line, and were moving enough Tupperware to attract Earl Tupper's attention.
In 1948, Tupper met with Damigella, Wise, and several other local distributors at a
Sheraton in Worcester Massachusetts to discuss a new distribution plan. Modelled on the
home party plan pioneered by Stanley Home Products and expanded and refined by Brownie
Wise, the home party plan became and remains the exclusive outlet for Tupperware. Wise was
named Vice President of the company (named Tupperware Home Parties) in 1951, a position
she held until 1958. In 1958, Tupper sold out to Justin Dart of Rexall
Drug Company for $16 million, and also divorced his wife. He bought
himself an island in Central America, and eventually moved to Costa
Rica, giving up his U.S. citizenship to avoid taxes. Tupper died on
October 5, 1983.
success stems from the combined genius of Earl Tupper, the self-styled Yankee inventor and
entreprenuer and Brownie Wise, the consummate saleswoman and motivator. If Tupper
personified reverence for the product, Wise personified respect for the sales force.
"If we build the people," she was fond of saying, "they'll build the
business." Almost half a century later, their legacy remains an important part of
Tupperware's continuing success.
The Entrepreneur from The Great Idea Finder
from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Promise of Plastic in 1950s America
by Alison J. Clarke / Paperback: 241 pages / Smithsonian Institution Press; (March
From Wonder Bowls to Ice-Tup molds to Party Susans, Tupperware has become an icon
of suburban living. 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.
As Seen on TV:
The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s
by Karal Ann Marling / Paperback:/ Harvard Univ Press, Reprint edition (March 1996)
Opening with a photograph of a 1950s Disneyland home designed in the shape of a TV
(by those fun-loving futurists at MIT), this book's text and photos consistently maintain
a balance between insightful social commentary and critique and sensitive recapturing of
the essence of visual broadcast's dawn.
ON THE WEB:
Official site of the Tupperware Company with everything you need to know
about Tupperware, including where to purchase the products.
Decades of Change
The versatility and convenience of Tupper's "miracle" products helped to
launch the plastics revolution of the next decade.
Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual
awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
Earl S. Tupper Papers
If Tupper personified reverence for the product, Wise personified respect for the
sales force. "If we build the people," she was fond of saying, "they'll
build the business." Their legacy remains an important part of Tupperware's
People & Events: Earl Silas Tupper (1907-1983)
Tupper sold out to Justin Dart of Rexall Drug Company for $16 million,
and also divorced his wife. He bought himself an island in Central
America, and eventually moved to Costa Rica, giving up his U.S.
citizenship to avoid taxes. Tupper died on October 5, 1983.
DID YOU KNOW?
- A Tupperware demonstration started every two seconds
somewhere in the world.
- Around the world, nearly 118 million people attended a
- Tupperware® brand products were sold in over 100 markets
around the world.
- Worldwide net sales were $1.2 billion.
- Tupperware® is such a unique and
preeminent status in the industry that its trademark has become
practically an international generic term.
- One of the first direct sellers for Tupperware was Brownie
Wise, a single mother with a genius for people and a flare for marketing. Wise was so
successful demonstrating and selling Tupper's plastics that he brought her into his
company in 1951 to build the direct selling system that has made the Tupperware party
almost as famous as his products
- Tupper also kept an illustrated
notebook of his inventions. He fancied himself to be a latter-day
trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised October 23, 2006.
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