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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Tupperware!

Airs Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Marketing genius Brownie Wise (right) tosses a bowl filled with water at a Tupperware party.

In the 1950s, American women discovered they could earn thousands — even millions — of dollars from bowls that burped. “Tupperware ladies” fanned out across the nation’s living rooms, selling efficiency and convenience to their friends and neighbors through home parties. Bowl by bowl, they built an empire that now spans the globe.

Tupperware catalog, circa 1958.
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Above: Tupperware catalog, circa 1958.

Earl Tupper, inventor of Tupperware, presents Brownie Wise, head of Tupperware Home Parties, with a pink Cadillac at the companys Florida headquarters. A self-taught saleswoman, Brownie built an empire out of bowls that burped.
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Above: Earl Tupper, inventor of Tupperware, presents Brownie Wise, head of Tupperware Home Parties, with a pink Cadillac at the companys Florida headquarters. A self-taught saleswoman, Brownie built an empire out of bowls that burped.

This documentary, narrated by Kathy Bates, reveals the secret behind Tupperware’s success: the women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds who discovered they could move up in the world without leaving the house.

"Tupperware!" charts the origins of the small plastics company that unpredictably became a cultural phenomenon.

It all began with the unlikely partnership of Earl Silas Tupper, a reclusive small-town inventor, and Brownie Wise, a self-taught marketing whiz.

At a time when women, who had been celebrated for working in factories during World War II, were being pushed back to the kitchen, Wise showed them how to defy the limitations they faced by starting up their own businesses -- based in their kitchens.

In "Tupperware!," archival footage of Tupperware parties, annual Tupperware Jubilees, and home movies is interwoven with the thoughtful, often humorous recollections of Tupperware salespeople and executives who experienced firsthand the company's meteoric rise.

This program originally aired in 2012.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter.

Video

Preview: American Experience: Tupperware!

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Tupperware! Bonus Video: Jubilee Video: Top 25

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Above: At the 1961 Tupperabia Jubilee, the top 25 sellers in the country wear "special magic turbans" to receive their prizes, ranging from pots and pans to a cottage. In 1954, Brownie Wise inaugurated the Tupperware Homecoming Jubilee. Hundreds of Tupperware dealers from across the country came to the company's Kissimmee, Florida, headquarters for classes and motivational events. Wise gave each year's gathering a theme, with high spectacle and outrageous competitions -- often for glamorous prizes.

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Tupperware! Jubilee Video: Fort Fairlane Giveaway

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Above: In this 1960 Jubilee video, unexpected four-wheeled prizes inspire mania. The highest-distributor cup is awarded to Jo and Bill Carter from Medford, New Jersey.