Wise, a former advice columnist and a secretary who lived with her mother, Rose Humphrey, and her young son Jerry Wise in Miami, Florida, however, saw potential. She started her own Tupperware-selling business, Patio Parties, in the late 1940s and recruited women to sell for her. The sales strategy was rooted in the home selling model pioneered by companies like Stanley Home Products, which used home sellers to demonstrate novel products, but Wise put women front and center as sellers at parties, then known as “Poly-T parties.” Instead of just a product demonstration, a Tupperware party was a party, whose hostess was supported by a Tupperware dealer—an honored guest who could demonstrate the products and sell. Hostesses received merchandise as a thank-you for providing their homes and social networks. By 1949, Wonder Bowls were flying out of the hands of Wise’s sellers: one woman sold more than 56 bowls in a week.
At this point, however, Tupper himself was just catching on to the idea of home selling. “In 1949, Tupper published a mail-order catalogue illustrated with product settings in his own New England home and featuring a range of 22 standard Tupperware items,” writes historian Alison J. Clarke in Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America. The products came in delicious-sounding fruit colors like raspberry and orange or expensive-sounding gem tones like sapphire and frosted crystal. But despite these appealing images—and the fact that unbreakable, sealable, leak-proof Tupperware was several steps above what people were using at the time to keep food in the fridge—consumers weren’t buying it. Tupperware was too high-tech and unusual to appeal to shoppers who weren’t used to having plastics in the home.
Wise’s innovation lay in figuring out how to make a plastic bowl familiar. The life of this divorced breadwinner was different from those of the married suburban housewives who Tupper was targeting, but she understood that they could be both the ideal market and the ideal salespeople for this new dishware, and she was able to create a Tupperware empire.