The papers consist of business records documenting the history of Tupperware from 1951-1958, during which Brownie Wise served as vice president of the Tupperware Company. Also, personal papers and business records documenting her marketing activities for Stanley Home Products, Vivian Woodard Cosmetics, and others.
Scope and Contents:
The Brownie Wise Papers constitute an essential complement to the Earl Tupper Papers, acquired in 1992, and to the museums rich collections of Tupperware products. Together these collections document not only the founding and early business history of Tupperware, but also significant areas of American history in which the museum has a demonstrated interest. The Brownie Wise Papers illuminate aspects of an American consumer culture which achieved its apex in the post-World War II years; in many ways, Tupperware and the Tupperware party reflect the key defining elements of the fifties. Of special significance is the story these papers tell of a successful woman business executive and working mother, in an era whose women have more often been characterized by June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson. The Tupperware story offers rich insights into the society and culture of the era, illuminating issues of gender, consumerism, and technological development.
There are approximately 15 cubic feet of materials, including photographic and audiovisual materials. The collection is organized into eight series.
The collection is arranged into eight series.
Series 1: Personal Papers, circa 1928-1968
Series 2: Stanley Home Products, Patio Parties, circa 1947-1959
Series 3: Tupperware Home Parties, circa 1951-1959
Series 4: Direct Sales consulting, circa 1958-1969
Series 5: Other Direct Sales Consulting, circa 1958-1971
Series 6: Other Business ventures, circa 1958-1967
Series 7: Photographs, 1930-1968
Series 8: Audiovisual Materials, 1953-1957; 1977
Brownie Humphrey was born in Buford, Georgia in 1913, the daughter of Rosabelle Stroud Humphrey and Jerome Humphrey, a plumber. According to longtime friend Kay Robinson, Brownie knew that there were few business opportunities for women in the South, and that "unless she wanted to work in sales, she would have to leave the South." After meeting Robert Wise at the Texas Centennial in 1936, where the couple saw an exhibition highlighting a bright future at Ford Motors, Brownie and Robert married and moved to the Detroit area where he worked as a machinist, later opening a small machine shop. The couple divorced in 1941, about three years after the birth of their only child, Jerry. Brownie Wise never remarried.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Brownie contributed to a correspondence column of the Detroit News under the pen name "Hibiscus." Her columns were largely autobiographical, but used elements of fantasy and romance to address a uniquely female urban community. In Detroit, Wise worked briefly at an ad agency and in a millinery shop. During World War II, Wise got a job as an executive secretary at Bendix. After the war, Brownie and her mother, Rose Stroud Humphrey, began selling Stanley Home Products. When Jerry became ill in 1949, they followed a doctor's advice and moved to Miami where they began a direct selling business they called Patio Parties. Through this business, the mother daughter team distributed Poly-T (Tupperware), Stanley Home Products, West Bend, and other household goods through an innovative home party plan adopted by Brownie.
Thomas Damigella in Massachusetts, and Brownie Wise in South Florida, quickly became among the fastest movers of Tupperware products, attracting the attention of Earl Tupper, who was still searching for a profitable outlet for his plastic containers. Because Americans were still skeptical of plastics and because the Tupper seal required demonstration, early attempts at department store sales had been unsuccessful. Some independent dealers had more success selling through demonstrations at state fairs or door-to-door, but sales and distribution remained low. The experiences of Damigella and Wise convinced Tupper to offer the products on a home party plan. He partnered with Norman Squires, the originator of Hostess Home Parties, to pursue this strategy.
In 1951, Tupper recruited Brownie to develop the Hostess party plan for Tupperware, and named her vice president of the company. She is credited with developing the party plan and sales organization, and with creating the annual Jubilee, a pep-rally and awards ceremony for dealers and distributors; it was her idea to locate company headquarters in Kissimmee, and she oversaw the design and construction of the campus. With the company's meteoric success came national recognition. Her public role was all the greater because Earl Tupper shunned all public exposure; Wise was the public head of the company throughout the 1950s. She was both honored guest and invited speaker at national sales and marketing conferences, where she was often the only woman in attendance. Scores of laudatory articles about her appeared in the sales industry and general business press, and she became the darling of the women's magazines, including features in McCalls, Charm and Companion.
Tupper and Wise clashed over the management and direction of the business in late 1957 and the board of directors forced her out in January, 1958. She filed a $1,600,000 suit against the company for conspiracy and breach of contract, but settled out of court for a year's salary -- about $30,000. Shortly thereafter, Tupper sold the company to Dart/Rexall and relinquished all involvement with it.
Beginning in 1958 and through the 1960s, Brownie co-founded three direct sales cosmetics companies, Cinderella (1958-59), Carissa (1963) and Sovera/Trivera (1966-69). She also was president of Viviane Woodard Cosmetics (1960-62), and consulted for Artex and others. In addition, she undertook a real estate development venture in Kissimmee with Charles McBurney and George Reynolds (both former Tupperware executives). She seems never to have achieved the same level of success in these later business ventures. Wise continued to live in the Kissimmee area, moving from Waters' Edge, the spectacular 1920s mansion she occupied during the Tupperware years, to a home George Reynolds designed for her in. She was active in her church and as an artist, working in clay and textiles. During the last eight years of her life she was in declining health. She died in December 1992.
The collection was donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History in March 1994 by Brownie Wise's son, Jerry Wise, of Kissimmee, Florida.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.