The Story of Tupperware: From Trailblazer Brownie Wise to 21st Century Drag Queens


Trailblazer Brownie Wise (left) and present-day American drag queen Dixie Longate (right).

Ryan Rose, Co-Editor

Almost everyone is familiar with Tupperware. While their sealable bowls are a recognizable household commodity for almost all Americans, it is the Tupperware Party that truly brought the corporation into national fame. Very few people know the history of Tupperware, though, and even fewer are aware of the current state of the corporation. I, too, was unaware of the historic progress that this corporation made back in the World War II era and it wasn’t until last month that I heard of the name “Brownie Wise.” Where did I learn of this piece of our nation’s history you may ask? It wasn’t from a history class or textbook by any means, but rather a drag show entitled Dixie’s Tupperware Party. The show, which is performed in theaters across the world, is a real-life Tupperware Party where audiences come together to laugh, shop, and even learn.

So, how exactly did Tupperware start? It all began with a man named Earl Tupper. It was the middle of the 20th Century and America was in the midst of World War II. Plastic materials had been used frequently throughout the war by the American military, but they had not yet found their way into the average U.S. household. Plastic was a new invention and most Americans preferred to use their glass, wood, and metal products that they were already accustomed to. Earl Tupper wanted to put this new material in each American household. To do so he created his corporation, Tupperware, and his first real product, the Wonder Bowl. This bowl, unlike any other bowl at the time, was able to completely seal thanks to its tight plastic lid. This may seem rather basic today, but at the time it was revolutionary.

The American public did not quite agree, however. Americans wanted to stick to the tried and true ways of food storage that they were familiar with; they weren’t ready to introduce this new product into their lives and it would take some serious marketing to change that. Tupper’s company was seemingly doomed to fail; that was until Brownie Wise was able to completely revolutionize the way this product was sold. Wise came across the Wonder Bowl and saw opportunity, not just for Tupperware, but for herself and all the other women of the 1950s.

By the time Wise came across the Wonder Bowl, World War II was over and women were expected to return to their household duties. During the war, American women were drawn into the workforce and supported American industry while the men of the nation went off into battle. Upon the return of the men at the end of World War II, it was expected that women would just willingly give up their jobs and happily return to their “wifely and motherly duties”. Women had carried the nation’s industry throughout the most taxing war in American history up until that time and instead of being recognized for their contributions to society, they were asked to return to following the same sexist gender roles they were subjected to before the war. 

It was when Brownie Wise came across Tupperware that she found a way out of this horrible situation for herself and for the many women that she would come to inspire. Wise began demonstrating the usage of Tupperware bowls to her friends and family at numerous house parties that she organized. She was able to show her audiences just how effective Tupperware products were and by doing so she made money not just for herself, but for Tupperware as well. Thanks to the Tupperware parties that Wise organized, American consumers were starting to become familiar with the idea of plastic goods and actually began to prefer them to the products of the past. Wise didn’t stop here; instead, she got her friends and loved ones to sell Tupperware themselves. In turn, these people inspired others to join suit. Brownie Wise had effectively started a long chain of Tupperware parties.

Wise gained serious traction within middle class America; she even got the attention of Earl Tupper himself. In 1951, Tupper reached out to Wise and made her his vice president of marketing for the corporation. Positions of this nature were hardly given to women in this time period, but the need for Tupperware to hire Brownie Wise to coordinate Tupperware parties across the country was indisputable. The trailblazing actions of Brownie Wise turned a small, failing plastic business into a 77 year old corporation that almost all Americans recognize by name today. Brownie Wise opened the door for female leaders and employees all across the nation. 

The state of the world today is very different than it was in the 1950’s, however. Sure, we all know about Tupperware, but with the introduction of countless companies that aim to sell plastic products in an age of mass consumerism, how has Tupperware fared? What is the state of the Tupperware party today? While it is true that Tupperware as a corporation may not be in the same high position that it was in the 1950s and 60s, it is still a major selling point of plastic home goods. The Tupperware party is still alive and well; in fact, it has completely transformed since Brownie Wise started the tradition.

Today, 30 years after Brownie Wise’s death, Tupperware is most supported by American drag queens. That’s right; all throughout the 21st century, drag queens have been the top sellers for Tupperware. Rather than sell Tupperware at house parties, these drag queens have taken the Tupperware party to the theater. Numerous drag queens have made careers for themselves by selling Tupperware; in fact, one of these performers, who plays the character “Aunt Barbara,” has reportedly made over $250,000 a year selling Tupperware across the nation. 

The show that I got to see, Dixie’s Tupperware Party, was hosted by Dixie Longate, America’s top Tupperware salesperson in 2012, having sold over $219,000 worth of Tupperware. Dixie has been performing this hit show in venues across 5 different nations since 2007, when it opened off-Broadway. The man behind the character, Kris Andersson, plays the role of a middle-aged woman from Mobile, Alabama who started selling Tupperware as a condition of her parole in order to get her children back from the state (even though she didn’t really want them back). In the show, Dixie demonstrates the usage of numerous Tupperware products (from can openers to sealable cups that allow you to drink and drive at the same time without any spills) while simultaneously providing an hour and a half stand up special. Andersson has not only made a stable career for himself by assuming the role of Dixie and selling “fine quality plastic crap” all across the nation, but he has also shared the story of Brownie Wise with countless audience members while doing so. These drag queens have kept the spirit of the traditional in person Tupperware party alive while simultaneously making it more palatable for modern American audiences. It is through them that we hold onto this important piece of American history.