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The Flat Cap on ... Tupperware

This morning The Flat Cap has been clearing out his kitchen cupboards to make some room for a deep fat fryer that he bought off Ebay. Apparently it does really good chips, although you have to be careful not to overload it or the chips will come out a bit soggy. The Flat Cap likes his chips crispy and not too oily. Gravy is always a good accompaniment to chips, as are salt and vinegar. In the Netherlands they like mayonnaise on their chips. Anyway whilst rearranging his comestibles and kitchen gadgetry the Flat Cap came across some Tupperware boxes that he had totally forgotten about. As Tupperware is such an unusual word this got The Flat Cap thinking about its origins and name. So, he decided to find out a little bit more about this essential storage item.

The first thing The Flat Cap discovered is that Tupperware is named after its inventor Earl Tupper. Although not a real earl Mr. Tupper was nevertheless a clever man and it was he who first invented the type of plastic to make this revolutionary storage product. Tupper then moulded the product to create cups, bowls and plates as well as non-breakable containers. He even went on to make gas masks out of it, and these were used in World War Two. Whilst the market for gas masks proved a limited one it wasn’t so for the storage boxes. But like all great inventions the Tupperware needed marketing. And this was when it became really revolutionary.

After a woman called Brownie Wise wrote to Mr. Tupper to explain her brilliant marketing idea the inventor withdrew his product from stores and instead relied on Tupperware parties to promote and sell the product. Party planning is essentially a way of direct selling things to people who don’t really want to buy them. But because it’s done in the comfort of the home of someone you know, or the home of a friend, or the home of a friend of a friend of someone you know, you generally feel obliged to make a purchase. Madge, who runs The Flat Cap’s media empire, once bought herself some “adult items” and saucy underwear at a party she went to. That’s how effective this type of marketing is. And until Wise and Tupper eventually fell out, and he sacked her from her position as Vice President of Marketing, they both made a handsome living from Tupperware. Wise was very good at her job and became a household name in 1950s America. She went on television, and was the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week. None of these achievements saved her from the sack however and she was dismissed less than four years later.

The Earl of Tupperware did markedly better. He sold his company for sixteen million US dollars and bought an island off the coast of Costa Rica where, legend has it, he lived happily ever after. The Earl died in 1983 but his legacy lives on.

Stan, who owns one of those convenience shops (the sort that sell just about everything from washing up bowls to brushes to birthday cards), was just putting some plastic storage boxes onto his shelves when The Flat Cap walked in to buy a battery for his cheap watch. Stan said he knew plenty of interesting facts about Tupperware, and earls too, and he volunteered the following information over a cup of tea at the back of the shop:

  • Really good Tupperware sellers used to make lots of money and be rewarded with free holidays or lavish incentives like their own speedboats, or a new fridge freezer

  • Tupperware comes with a lifetime guarantee, except in the UK and Ireland where it’s only for ten years

  • World wide there is enough Tupperware to hold all the water in Loch Ness

  • Although Earl Tupper wasn’t a real earl if he had been then his wife would have been a countess. There isn’t an “earless”. Well there is, but it’s the adjective you would use to describe somebody with no ears. The Flat Cap thinks having no ears would be very problematical. For a start you wouldn’t be able to wear spectacles unless you super-glued the arms of them to the sides of your head. Or you could affix the arms with a staple gun. Either way both potential solutions sound jolly painful. An earl is above a viscount or a baron, but below a duke or a marquess

  • Indonesia has overtaken Germany as the top Tupperware marketplace in the world. At the last count there were over 250,000 Indonesians selling Tupperware to their friends and neighbours, and their neighbours’ friends, and their neighbours’ friends of friends. Stan reckoned Tupperware has changed lives all over Jakarta

  • It is estimated that there is a Tupperware Party somewhere across the globe every two seconds

  • One of the most famous Tuppers was the comic character Alf Tupper. Alf was a “hard as nails” runner whose exploits were chronicled in British boys’ comics The Rover and then The Victor up until 1992. Despite a staple diet of fish and chips and working long hours as a welder Alf would arrive at race meetings just in the nick of time and go on to win championships, or break world records. His catchphrase was, ‘I ran ‘em all’. His pet hate was “snobs, especially those who run fast”. It is unlikely that Alf would have got on with real life runner and Lord, Sebastian Coe

  • Another very famous Tupper was Sir Charles Tupper. He holds the record for the shortest serving Canadian prime minister of all time - just sixty nine days

  • Tupper Lake in New York State takes its name from a surveyor who died there whilst out fishing

  • Earl Tupper renounced his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes, so did the actor Yul Brynner. Other people who have renounced their U.S. citizenship include singer Tina Turner, author Henry James, and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam

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