Gary McDonald, Tupperware Executive
Earl Tupper patented a method of washing clothing in 1980. Hear former Tupperware executive Gary McDonald's story of how Earl described this invention.
[Earl Tupper's] approach was cloak-and-dagger like. He would contact me after he had flown into the town, into Orlando. He would call me at home and ask to meet with me the following day at my office, but in the evening to be sure that nobody else would be around, because he wanted to get together and talk with me and review some things with me. Frequently he would talk about some of the past, some of the past products and some of the past successes of Tupperware, but frequently he would be talking about new products, the new things that he was doing.
He was not very forthcoming in where he was going or where he had been, but he would want my reaction to the products, and of course he assumed that my reaction would be the same kind of reaction he got when we presented new products to people at Jubilee, I would guess. But some of his products were truly off the wall.
One which I remember particularly because he had a sample of it with him, and it was for the traveling person, and it was like two of the Tupperware rolling pins put together with a seal in the middle that they both fit into which was a mesh. And he demonstrated the way in which you would use this.
When you got to your motel in the evening at the end of the day you would take your underclothes that needed to be washed and you would put them in one end of this tubular thing and you would then put warm water in it and put soap in it. You would then put this seal, this great kind of seal, in the middle and then you would put the other side in and you would have -- which would come with the product -- a series of exercises that you would do so that at the same time that you were using the product, you would be getting your exercise, which you needed from being on the road or not being at home where you could exercise, but you could exercise there in your motel room.
And he got up and with this tube device, he began shaking it to one side and then shaking it to the other and back and forth, and he pointed out that this was agitating the clothes and mixing the soapy water with the clothes and this was washing your clothes just as you would wash them in a washer. And then he said that you would swing it around to get all of the water down to one end, you would remove the one end, take off the mesh thing, empty out that water, put in rinse water, and then you would go into your second set of exercises where you would shake it up this way and shake it down that way so that it would be the rinse cycle that you would be in with this device.
He then pointed out that you would need to get most of the water out of the clothing, so what you would do is empty the rinse water and then you would swing it around and the centrifugal force, with the clothes in one end, would force all the water into the other and you would hold it carefully so that the end with the clothes in it was up so that the water would be in the lower part of it. You would then take it apart, pour out that water, and you would have your clothes that had been washed and rinsed and partially dried in the quote, spin cycle, as you spun it around your head.
He had a companion product which, if you were a traveling salesman for instance, and motoring by car, or if you were on a vacation and doing so, it was a device that worked like the hot dog cooker with two items which were hinged together at the end and had gridwork, the two parts of it, and you would put your clothing in that and as you left the motel in the morning you would stick this out the window so that the wind would blow through it and would dry your clothes one or two or three pieces at a time, whatever number would fit.
And this was a shocking revelation to me in terms of the kind of product that Earl Tupper would come up with, but not totally shocking because during the time that he was designing products for us there were some that were real lulus. We had one that you used in the kitchen to scrape food off and clean out seals and he named it an Indian name, Cleans-Like-All-Get-Out. And he wanted us to sell that. And he had some others which were so off-the-wall that we just told him that this was really not going to work for us.
And he accepted that rejection on those products, which really kind of surprised me. There were some that we had to put in the line because he felt that they were good products in spite of the fact that we were not particularly enamored of the items. But this was perhaps one of the wildest and he was very serious in his presentation and his demonstration of this being a marketable product. Obviously it never was.
My American Experience
What do you think of the Tupperware story? What's your opinion of the postwar consumer boom, the rise of plastics, and other events of the 1950s? Has Tupperware affected you?