'How Tupperware let me live the American dream'

Sylvia Boyd, a housewife from California who became a Tupperware hostess and millionaire, talks about what the American Dream means to her

A sense of fulfilment and personal and financial success are factors often associated with the American Dream. For Sylvia Boyd, success came in the shape of the airtight, plastic storage boxes that made her a Tupperware millionaire.

"I can't even begin to imagine what life would have been without it, without any part of it, the people, the success, the product, the money we made. I mean every area of our life is impacted," says Sylvia Boyd.

In the 1950s she was a housewife, living in California. A former child actress, she had left high school, married her husband Jon, a Los Angeles city fireman, and had two children. However that life of domestic devotion soon became frustrating.

"I was home all day, kind of bored, just talking baby talk most of the day," she said. "Jon was gone 24 hours on, 24 hours off."

"There was no question that we [women] had a niche - in the kitchen, in the house," she said.

"Most of us did not have a car in the daytime and in the night-time we didn't go out anyway. If we did it was with our husband and generally that was only on the weekend.

"We didn't get babysitters very much… it could be a very stagnating kind of an atmosphere to live in."

Lifetime guarantee

However, one day Sylvia was invited to a party that would change her life.

"We lived in a typical post-war neighbourhood with California bungalows and everybody was young and everybody had babies and was having babies.

"I went to the [Tupperware] party, watched the girl that was putting on the party and I thought, I know I could do that."

Lifting the lid on Tupperware

Women gather at a Tupperware home party in 1958
  • Invented by Earl Tupper, Tupperware was first introduced to the consumer in 1946
  • At first customers did not understand how the new airtight seals worked and the products did not sell well in retail stores
  • The first Tupperware party was hosted in 1948 in order to demonstrate the range within the home
  • The parties proved a popular career choice for women as a flexible way to earn money after World War II
  • By the 1990s "Rush Hour" and "Office" parties were created for those in a hurry
  • In the 21st Century, new sales opportunities arrived in the shape of the internet and shopping mall demonstrations

Sylvia became a Tupperware hostess in 1956, holding parties three times a week in which women would gather together to be shown and then sold various lines from the polyethylene range.

"We'd show the features and the benefits of the product and talk about the lifetime guarantee," said Sylvia. "I mean what can you buy for 49 cents that 15 years later if it cracks we'll give you a brand new one, no questions asked."

The Tupperware parties were known for their fun, flamboyant atmosphere. When releasing a new product range, Sylvia's husband Jon would often attend the party dressed up as a "Tupperlady" in a long yellow wig, thong, pinafore and holding a feather duster.

However there was a strict dress code for the real Tupperware ladies. Skirts and tights had to be worn at all times - never trousers or bare legs - and white gloves often accompanied the outfit.

Sylvia would use a technique called "carrot calling" to help book the parties.

"We would go door to door in a neighbourhood and say 'I would love for you to run an experiment for me'. I have a bunch of carrots with me and a Tupperware container and I'd like to leave it with you today if you'll allow me.

"Put this carrot in anything that you would ordinarily leave it in and let's put this one in Tupperware. I'd show her how to seal it… and then we'd come back and inevitably we'd date a party because they'd be so amazed."

A richer life

Four years on, in 1960, Sylvia and her husband were offered their own distributorship in Indiana. Her husband gave up his job as a fireman and the move was a gamble.

"We had $5,000 to our name. That was from selling our house and all of our furniture. The only thing we kept was a mattress that we put in the back of our station wagon.

Sylvia and Jon Boyd With their financial success, Sylvia and Jon Boyd were able to live more comfortably

"The kids laid on it all the way from California to Fort Wayne, Indiana."

The business grew 500% in the first year and became one of the top 25 distributorships in America in the second year. But after three years the family were given the chance to move their business back home to Los Angeles.

The success continued and in 1983 Sylvia was appointed to Tupperware staff, becoming only the third female regional vice president in the company's history.

Although Tupperware made Sylvia a millionaire, she believes the American Dream is more than just achieving financial security, it is also having the opportunity to fulfil your own potential no matter what your start in life.

"Tupperware was the first dream that ever came to me and to all the people that I worked with, and that definitely said to us it doesn't matter how much money you have, we will help you get started.

"We will provide the product and you know you can make as much as you're willing to work at.

"So Tupperware was just like it dropped out of heaven."

Sylvia Boyd was interviewed for the BBC Two series - The American Dream - which was first broadcast in the UK

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