Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Wise, Brownie

Brownie Wise is credited with creating the Tupperware Party, begun during her 14-year tenure in Detroit. The “party plan” marketing and sales system was largely responsible for Tupperware’s success, and served as a model for other home party businesses.

She was born Brownie Mae Humphrey on May 25, 1913 in rural Buford, Georgia, but grew up mainly in Atlanta, living with an aunt. While at the Texas centennial celebration in Dallas, she met Robert W. Wise, who was in charge of the Ford Motor Company’s exhibit. The couple married on December 15, 1936 and moved to Detroit shortly afterwards.

While living in Detroit as a housewife and mother to her only child, Jerry, Wise made regular contributions to The Detroit News’ “Experience” column, a readers’ forum to which many Detroit citizens (mainly women) wrote. Wise chose the pen name “Hibiscus,” and wrote long, carefully crafted, and often romanticized descriptions of her life. As a teenager she had the goal of becoming a writer.

After she and Robert Wise divorced in the early 1940s, she took a job as a secretary for Bendix Aviation. To earn extra income, Wise began selling Stanley Home Products at home party demonstrations. Stanley was a pioneer in direct selling, and Wise soon became one of their top sellers. In the late 1940s, Wise was first introduced to Tupperware, a new polyethylene product that was being sold, with limited success, at department stores across the nation. She and several other Stanley branch managers developed the idea to sell Tupperware at home parties to show potential buyers how to “burp” the airtight Tupper seal correctly. When Wise was told by Stanley founder that, as a woman, she would have no place in management, she switched to selling Tupperware.

In 1950, Wise moved to Florida with her mother and her son where she started a company called Tupperware Patio Parties. It soon sold more Tupperware than any department store, making Florida the center of Tupperware’s sales force. Her remarkable success caught the eye of Earl Tupper, the inventor of Tupperware, who had unsuccessfully attempted to start a home party division within his company. In 1951 Wise accepted his invitation to become the vice president of the company and from then on, Tupperware was only sold through the home party plan.

Tupperware’s public relations staff promoted Wise extensively, taking advantage of her rare status as a female executive of a major American company. Wise appeared on talk shows, was quoted by newspapers, and was the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week. However, a falling out between Wise and Tupper resulted in her abrupt firing from the company in 1958. Wise spent the remainder of her years starting unsuccessful home party cosmetics companies, working as a consultant to direct sales companies, and dabbling in Florida real estate and ceramics. On September 24, 1992, Brownie Wise passed away in Kissimmee, Florida at the age of 79.

Although her time as one of the heads of Tupperware was short-lived, Wise left a lasting legacy in American business. She knew how to inspire people and worked to encourage women to join the business world. Wise offered women the opportunity to earn extra money and to travel by selling Tupperware. Under her guidance and direction, Tupperware home parties became the “gold standard” for home party selling.



Tupperware Advertisement, 1956 – 2014.114.094

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