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10 Great Love Affairs in History

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By Sam Boykin

It's what makes women wear torturous undergarments and feign interest in preposterous sporting rituals. It's also what makes men hold dainty purses outside of fitting rooms and suffer through hosts of terrible movies. What could be this powerful? Why, love, of course. We've combed through Cupid's handiwork and selected some romantic pairings powerful enough to influence culture, trigger wars, and spawn international scandals.

1. Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra always had a high profile love life. The queen of Egypt, she was the mistress of Julius Caesar, king of Rome, until his assassination in 44 B.C.E. After Caesar's death, Mark Antony began sharing an uneasy alliance with Gaius Octavian (Caesar's grandnephew) and army general Marcus Lepidus as triumviral rulers of the Roman Empire. Looking to gain a powerful political ally, Antony invited Cleopatra to Tarsus (in what is now Turkey) in 41 B.C.E. for a meeting that would become legendary. Although she was rather plain looking, Cleopatra had a captivating presence and was known for her intelligence, wit and, at times, ruthless ambition. Antony was charmed instantly and followed Cleopatra back to Egypt. Back in Rome, Octavian was understandably angry, because Antony had previously wed his sister, Octavia, to strengthen his position. He began to view Cleopatra as a greedy temptress who had turned Antony into a helpless puppet. Octavian declared war on the two lovers, which culminated in the Battle of Actium in western Greece in 31 B.C.E. There, Octavian's naval fleet defeated the joint forces of Antony and Cleopatra, and the pair fled back to Egypt. Octavian, still pursuing sole control over the Roman Empire, invaded Egypt and forced Cleopatra and Antony to surrender.

During the final struggle against Octavian in Egypt, Antony received a false report that Cleopatra had committed suicide. Antony, overcome with grief, thrust a sword into his abdomen. His men carried him to where Cleopatra was hiding, and he died in her arms. Soon after, Cleopatra was taken prisoner. Legend has it she smuggled a poisonous snake into her cell and placed it upon her chest where it delivered a fatal strike. Cleopatra was buried next to her beloved, where they lay together for eternity.

2. Catherine the Great and Grigory Potemkin

Catherine the Great and her lover, Grigory Potemkin, definitely take the cake for the best "how we met" story. In 1761 Catherine was the wife of Russian Czar Peter III. But after only one year in power, Peter was overthrown (likely with Catherine's help) and killed (she may have given those orders, too) by the Imperial Guard forces in a coup d'état. It just so happened that, right about the time Peter was meeting his grim fate, Russian soldier Grigory Potemkin was on guard duty ensuring Catherine's safety. Catherine, who would become empress only days later, took a liking to Potemkin, despite the fact that he was obese, vain and missing an eye. But Catherine wasn't exactly known for being picky about her lovers; she had many, but she undoubtedly showed the longest fidelity to Potemkin. By 1771, Catherine had made him an official Russian statesman, a count and the commander of her armies. Although their love affair ended in 1776, Potemkin remained the love of her life. When he died at age 52, Catherine went into a depression from which she never fully recovered.

3. Napoleon and Josephine

napoleon-crowns-josephine.jpgNapoleon Bonaparte, a ruthless and ambitious soldier in the French military, was captivated the moment he saw Josephine, a charming and beautiful Paris socialite. Napoleon doggedly pursued the widowed, 32-year-old mother of two, but wasn't immediately successful. Despite being a military genius, he was unkempt and rather homely looking. Josephine eventually had a change of heart, and the two were married in 1796. Shortly after their wedding, Napoleon embarked on a series of military campaigns, while Josephine embarked on her own series of adulterous affairs. When Napoleon received word of this, he became enraged and demanded a divorce. But Josephine begged for his forgiveness, and he relented.


As Napoleon continued to rise in power and wealth, being crowned emperor of France in 1804, he became focused on having a son to carry on his royal lineage. But he eventually came to the conclusion that Josephine was unable to conceive, and the couple divorced in 1809. Less than a year later he married 18-year-old Marie Louise of Austria and had a son. But without Josephine it seemed his destiny was cursed. After devastating military losses he was exiled to the island of Elba on May 4, 1814. Josephine, still heartbroken, wrote a letter to Napoleon and asked permission to join him. He wrote back that it was impossible, but Josephine died on May 29 before his letter arrived. In 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to Paris. The first person he visited was the doctor who treated Josephine. When Napoleon beseeched the physician as to why his beloved Josephine had died, the doctor replied that he believed she had succumbed to a broken heart. He then retrieved violets from her garden and wore them in a locket until his death in 1821.

4. Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra Federovna

Young Nicholas II, the future Czar of Russia, fell for the ravishing German princess Alexandra of Hess as soon as he saw her. The pair became inseparable and, to the dismay of the royal family, often engaged in public displays of affection. Nicholas and Alex (as he called her) became engaged in 1893. The following year Nicholas' father died, and, only days later, the young couple was married in a ceremony diminished by the Russian leader's recent death. Nonetheless, Czar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra had a happy and passionate marriage. But while they were enjoying lavish royal parties and yacht outings, their countrymen toiled in poverty. During WWI the Russian people suffered greatly, and by 1917 support for the royal family was all but gone. Russians stormed the streets of St. Petersburg (then known as Petrograd) in protest and toppled the monarchy. Nicholas and his family were arrested and sent to Siberia. On July 16 of the next year the entire family was executed by the new Bolshevik government, ending the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty.

5. Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. and Anne Spencer Morrow

lindberg-anne.jpgAn American aviator, Charles became famous in 1927 when he made the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. While on a goodwill trip to Latin America later that year he met and began seeing Morrow, the shy, self-conscious daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Their courtship gained international attention, and when the two married in 1929, they became one of America's first celebrity couples. Anne soon began flying the friendly skies—she was the first licensed female glider pilot in the country—and took to the air with her husband. Together they made history by charting potential air routes for commercial airlines, and they even set a Los Angeles-to-New York air speed record in 1930 when Anne was seven months pregnant. With her beloved husband's encouragement she wrote memoirs of their life together and became one of the country's most popular and famous diarists with 13 published books to her credit. But their storybook romance hit a few rough spots, including a few short-lived affairs, and the tragic and infamous kidnapping and murder of their infant first son in 1932.

6. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

It was love at first sight when Gertrude Stein, 33, met Alice Babette Toklas, 29, in Paris in 1907. Like many great lovers, they met by accident. Stein's parents had gone to Oakland, Calif., to check on property damaged during the 1906 Bay Area earthquake, where they met Toklas and enthralled her with their stories of Paris. Toklas moved there two years later, met up with Gertrude, and the two women soon began living together. Besides being a well-known avant-garde writer, Stein was a brilliant eccentric with a heavy, unladylike presence. Alice B. Toklas, who worked as Stein's secretary and cook, was a chain smoker with a slight mustache, given to exotic dress. The pair became inseparable. Their apartment at now-famous 27 Rue de Fleurus became the foremost meeting place for artists and writers like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

7. (Prince) Edward and Wallis Simpson

Edward, the handsome Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, changed the course of his life, as well as that of British history, when he fell in love with Wallis Warfield Simpson—a woman who was not only American, but also married. Edward met Simpson at a party in 1931, hosted by Lady Thelma Furness, a viscountess with whom Edward had conducted a long relationship. Edward was not instantly smitten, but he and the upwardly-mobile Mrs. Simpson traveled in the same social circles, and after many society balls and dinner parties he was slowly captivated by her charm and poise. By 1934, Wallis was separated from her husband, and British Parliament grew increasingly nervous over the relationship. Then, in 1936, Edward's father died, and he was forced to take his position as king. But his brief stay on the throne only created a media frenzy due to his relationship with Simpson. Miserable, Edward abdicated the throne in a famous radio broadcast in which he told the world that he "found it impossible to carry the heavy burden" of being king without the support of "the woman he loved." Edward's younger brother, Albert, became King George VI, and, since the title Prince of Wales can only be held by the eldest son of the sovereign, Edward was made the Duke of Windsor. King George made sure that his brother kept the courtesy title of His Royal Highness, but he also pointedly decreed that should he marry Wallis, she (and any children they produced) would be denied royal status. After Simpson's divorce in 1937, Edward and Wallis were married in a small ceremony and spent most of the rest of their lives in France.

8. Waties Waring and Elizabeth Avery Waring

The story of Julius Waties Waring and Elizabeth Avery Waring is not just a great romance, it is a great romance that altered the course of America's civil rights movement. Growing up in Charleston, S.C., Waties Waring was the personification of Old South patrician. In 1941, at the age of 61, he was appointed a federal judge and became a popular member of the Charleston elite. Yet, Waring was already showing signs of dissent: He ended segregated seating in his courtroom and appointed John Fleming, a black man, as his bailiff. But eyebrows were raised even higher when Waring divorced his Southern-born wife of 32 years and married Elizabeth Avery, a twice-divorced native of Detroit. Waties and his new bride found themselves shunned by Charleston society; aside from being a "Yankee," Elizabeth was disliked because she was seen as inspiring her husband to look at issues of race in an even more aggressive light. Indeed, by the late 1940s, Waties had undergone an astonishing conversion that turned him into an outspoken critic of segregation and champion for racial justice. In fact, it was due to Waring's key legal influence and court ruling that the segregationists' "separate but equal" doctrine was declared unconstitutional, laying the groundwork for the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.

9. Harry Tyson Moore and Harriette Simms Moore

Harry and Harriette Moore are a relatively unknown yet pioneering couple that helped pave the way for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The two met in 1925 while Harry, 20, was teaching elementary school in Cocoa, Fla., and Harriette, 23, formerly a teacher herself, was selling insurance. The two quickly fell in love and were married within a year. Both strong-willed and compassionate people, the Moores raised a family (they had two daughters) while organizing the first Brevard County Chapter of the NAACP in 1934, championing such causes as equal pay for black teachers. With the support of legendary African-American attorney Thurgood Marshall, the Moore couple became key allies in the movement. By 1941, Harry was the president of the Florida chapter of the NAACP, and his new level of activism took him into the dangerous arena of lynchings and police brutality. At first, Harry's involvement was confined to letters to government officials, but he quickly began launching his own investigations. Many believed this is what precipitated the attack in 1951 on Christmas Day—also the Moores' 25th anniversary—when a bomb exploded in their bedroom. Harry died before he reached the hospital; Harriette passed away nine days later from her injuries. Though authorities believe that the Ku Klux Klan was involved, the murders have never been solved.

10. Juan Domingo Perón and Maria Eva Duarte (Evita)

evita.jpgMove over Bill and Hillary, this was the ultimate power couple. Evita Perón, born Maria Eva Duarte, began carving out a perfectly respectable rags-to-riches story when she left her poor family and small town of Los Toldos, Argentina, in 1935 to pursue acting in Buenos Aries. She appeared in vaudeville stage acts and found some success as a radio actress, but her life changed when she met and charmed Juan Domingo Perón, the future president of Argentina, in 1944. After only a year the two were married, and in 1946 Perón was elected president of Argentina. Together the couple helped reform labor and social welfare programs. In addition, Evita established a women's branch of the Peronista political party, as well as foundations for needy children and the elderly. Indeed, she was one of the most active first ladies the world has ever known, made formal in 1951 when she was asked to join her husband's election ticket as vice president. The Peróns' political opponents blocked her candidacy, fearing that she could one day become president, but Evita was not bitter. When her husband was inaugurated for the second time in 1952, Evita appeared by his side. But the occasion was bittersweet; she was suffering from cervical cancer and died shortly thereafter. Her husband's inauguration was her last public appearance.

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John Ueland
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How a Single Mom Created a Plastic Food-Storage Empire
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John Ueland

On an unseasonably warm day in April 1954, hundreds of women in cowboy hats gathered outside Tupperware’s Florida headquarters to dig for buried treasure. There, in a nearby swampy area dubbed the “Forest of Spades,” 600 shovels stood at the ready. The excitement was palpable. At the appointed signal, the women raced for the roped-off soil, grabbed shovels, and began to hunt frantically for loot.

It was the pinnacle of the inaugural Tupperware Jubilee, a five-day, gold-rush-themed affair celebrating all things Tupperware. No expense was spared: To give the event a Western feel, frontier-style buildings with false fronts had been erected and bulls and horses were trucked in. The women, and a smattering of men, had traveled from all across the country to participate. A collection of Tupperware dealers, distributors, and sales managers, they made the pilgrimage for the motivational speeches, sales instruction, and especially for the bizarre bonding rituals.

For five hours that day, they prospected for mink stoles and freezer units, gold watches and diamond rings. One of them, Fay Maccalupo of Buffalo, New York, dug up a toy car. When she saw the real Ford it represented, she planted her face against the hood and began to weep, repeating, “I love everybody.” Four women fainted and had to be revived with smelling salts. It was understandable, considering that the total cash value of all the prizes buried in the Florida dirt was $75,000.

Presiding over the treasure hunt was the general sales manager of the Tupperware Home Parties division, a 40-year-old woman named Brownie Wise. For hours, she cheered on the ladies from a loudspeaker with an air of royalty. As she watched them hop on shovels and unearth the rewards of their labors, she couldn’t help but feel proud. Wise took satisfaction in seeing her hard work pay off—once again. The jubilee, which she had organized, had all the pizzazz and spirit expected of an official Tupperware event. The media agreed: Network news was there to cover it, and Life magazine ran a photo essay highlighting the excitement and glamour.

Clearly, there’s more to Tupperware than leftovers. The story of the ubiquitous plastic container is a story of innovation and reinvention: how a new kind of plastic, made from an industrial waste material, ended up a symbol of female empowerment. The product ushered women into the workforce, encouraging them to make their own money, better their families, and win accolades and prizes without fear of being branded that 1950s anathema, “the career woman.”

Digging in the dirt for a gold watch may not mesh with today’s concept of a successful working woman, but at the time, the near-religious fervor seen at the jubilees and other Tupperware gatherings demonstrated just how ground-breaking the company’s sales plan was—the product became a multimillion dollar success not by exploiting women, but by embracing and boosting them. All of this was because of Brownie Wise. The story of Tupperware is her story.

Brownie Wise, named for her big, brown eyes, was born in rural Georgia. Her parents divorced when she was young, and as a teen she traveled with her mother, who organized union rallies. While touring the Deep South, Brownie started giving speeches at her mother’s rallies and soon proved to be a gifted and motivating orator. She “awed people,” writes Bob Kealing in his biography Tupperware Unsealed. “[They] were surprised that someone so young could deliver a speech like a pastor.”

Wise was married briefly, but by 27, she was a divorced single mom in suburban Detroit. During World War II, she worked as a secretary at Bendix Aviation, a company that made parts for navy torpedo planes. It was a decent but unfulfilling job. On the side, Wise penned an advice column for the Detroit News, writing under the alter ego “Hibiscus.” A housewife who led an idyllic life with her child and husband in a home called “Lovehaven,” Hibiscus had everything Wise did not. But what Wise did possess was an endless fountain of determination. As she wrote in a journal at that time, “I wanted to be a successful human being.”

It all started with a bad door-to-door salesman. When a Stanley Home Products salesman knocked on her door and proceeded to deliver a terrible sales pitch for cleaning supplies, Wise scoffed that she could do better. At the time, Stanley was experimenting with a peculiar sales model: home parties. A New Hampshire mop salesman had watched his numbers fly through the roof after he invited a bunch of women over for a party that included a mop demonstration. The company encouraged other salesmen to try the strategy, but many of them delegated the party-hosting to their wives. Thinking it’d be a fun job on the side, Wise started selling Stanley products at parties too. Before long, she was making enough money to quit her job at Bendix.

Wise was blessed with the gift of gab, and her special blend of folksy real talk and motherly encouragement helped her rise through Stanley’s ranks. Soon she was in management and hoping to ascend even higher. But those illusions were quashed at a meeting with Stanley head Frank Beveridge, who told Wise she’d never become an executive. Its halls were “no place for a woman,” he said. Wise returned home furious. The rejection lit a fire in her—she vowed that someday, somehow, she would prove Beveridge wrong.

She didn’t know that the key to fulfilling this dream would be in plastic food-storage containers. Wise first glimpsed Tupperware at a sales meeting. One of her coworkers had seen the products gathering dust in a department store and decided to bring them in. At first, Wise didn’t think they were anything special. But when she accidentally knocked a Tupperware bowl off the table, she realized its full potential: Instead of breaking, it bounced.

It seemed like magic. Tupperware was unlike any home product she’d seen before. It was attractive, coming in pastel colors and flexible shapes, almost like art. More importantly, it was functional—no other competing product even came close. Convinced of its potential, Wise traded in her Stanley brooms in 1949 and started throwing parties to sell Tupperware. What she didn’t intend, exactly, was to kindle a revolution.

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The most amazing thing about Tupperware wasn’t that it extended the life of leftovers and a family’s budget, although it did both remarkably well. It was, above all, a career maker. When women came to one of Wise’s parties, they were more than just convinced to buy the product— Wise was such a charming host that she persuaded many buyers to also become Tupperware salespeople. The more parties Wise hosted, the more tricks she learned to convert women into Tupperware faithful. Putting people on waiting lists, for instance, made them more eager to buy, so she signed them up regardless of whether the product was available. She also discovered that throwing containers full of liquid across the room made customers reach straight for their checkbooks. Amassing more and more saleswomen, Wise encouraged her followers to do the same. By October 1949, she had 19 recruits, enough to move her supplies out of her house and into a larger warehouse. Driven by the idea of making money simply by throwing parties for friends and neighbors, the women in Wise’s workforce ballooned in number. Soon, other Tupperware parties were taking place across the country. Wise’s team in Detroit was selling more Tupperware than most department stores. This soon attracted the attention of the no-nonsense founder of the Tupperware Corporation, Earl Silas Tupper.

Tupperware, true to its name, was Tupper’s masterpiece, and he was counting on it to make his dreams come true. Having grown up in a poor Massachusetts farm family, he had vowed to make a million dollars by the time he was 30. He hadn’t. He did have a host of esoteric inventions—among them, a fish-powered boat and no-drip ice cream cone—under his belt. But with a wife and family to support, he’d concentrated on a practical career in plastics, first at DuPont and then at a company of his own, which made parts for Jeeps and gas masks during World War II. When the war ended, Tupper decided to buy cheap surpluses left over from wartime manufacturing. He figured he’d be able to do something with them.

That’s how he ended up with a glob of greasy black polyethylene, a smelly waste product left behind when metal is created from ore. Tupper took it and, after months of trial and error, wrangled the slag into submission, creating a light-weight plastic that refused to break. Tupper dubbed it “Poly-T,” and, taking inspiration from the way paint cans sealed, created a flexible container with a noiseless lid that snapped on. He called the box Tupperware. He patented the seal in 1949 and rolled out 14 products he called the “Millionaire Line.” The only problem? He couldn’t get anyone to buy it.

At least not until Wise came along. Her sales record was remarkable—in 1949, she’d rung up $150,000 in orders and was offered a promotion: distribution rights to the entire state of Florida. In the spring of 1950, she moved south with her son, Jerry, and her mother. She found a store space, and by May she’d opened her business and was scouting for new salespeople.

Still, not everything was going smoothly. Along with disputes over turf with other distributors, she was constantly contending with botched orders, shipping delays, and product shortages. In March of 1951, Wise had had enough. She called Tupper in a fury. It was the first time they’d spoken, but she was too livid for niceties; she ripped into him immediately. This was hurting not just her bottom line, but also his. Did he not understand how crucial it was that the problems be fixed immediately? Tupper assured her that he’d fix any issues and then asked a favor: He wanted to hear her sales secrets.

The next month, the two met at a conference on Long Island and Wise explained her selling technique. It was pointless, she explained, to think that people would see Tupperware on store shelves or in catalogs and want to buy it. Instead, people had to touch it, squeeze it, drop it, seal it. They had to experience Tupperware from a trusted friend or neighbor. She gave a bold prescription for saving Tupper’s business: Ditch department stores altogether and focus entirely on throwing home parties.

Tupper took the advice to heart. So much, in fact, that the day after their meeting, he created a new division just for home parties and asked Wise to be the general manager. Wise had reached her goal: She had become an executive. It was a perfect fit, too. She had a stellar track record—she was selling more Tupperware than anyone anywhere—and Tupper was bowled over by her charm. “You talk a lot and everybody listens,” he said.

“She was the yin to Tupper’s yang,” Kealing writes. “Where he was fussy and reclusive, Wise lived to mingle with and inspire the dealer workforce.” They were a match made in sales heaven. Or so it seemed.

AP

In 1952, the first full year of Wise’s watch, Tupperware sales rocketed. Wholesale orders exceeded $2 million. During the last half of the year, sales tripled. Tupperware parties did exactly what Wise promised they would, and she became the company’s shining star. That year, Tupper gave her a salary of $20,933.33, more than she had ever made. For her birthday in 1953, he presented her with a gold-dyed palomino horse. Even more remarkably, he gave her the freedom to do practically whatever she wanted. So Wise traveled the country recruiting, presiding over sales conferences, and announcing contests and doling out prizes for incentive—including, sometimes, her own clothes.

By the looks of it, most of Wise’s Tupperware recruits fit neatly into the stereotypical role of a proper housewife. But, in reality, they surreptitiously represented a new kind of female empowerment. During World War II, many women had no choice but to enter the workforce. At its end, many of them had no choice but to leave it. Suddenly, selling Tupperware at parties allowed women to straddle both worlds. They were employed, yet they didn’t appear to challenge their husbands' authority or the status quo. This pioneering entrepreneurial model allowed them to inhabit a workforce outside of the one the hustling salesman inhabited, and, in many cases, to do even better than he did. And that power relied specifically on a network of female friends and neighbors.

The parties weren’t just a way for women to keep occupied—it was a way they could contribute to their family’s bottom line. Most women who worked outside the home had low-paying jobs in fields like light manufacturing, retail, clerical work, and health and education. The money—committed dealers could bring in $100 or more per week—was a revelation. The opportunity for success was so great that the husbands of some Tupperware ladies left their own jobs to work with their wives.

Wise was something of an early Oprah, giving away fantastic prizes, operating in a grass-roots, word-of-mouth fashion and showing rather than telling other women how to succeed in the comfort of their own homes. The fact that she made many women understand the benefits of becoming salespeople, building the brand further, simply made her a fantastic executive.

Wise embraced the spirit of female entrepreneurship wholeheartedly. In her prime, she wrote a morale-boosting newsletter called Tupperware Sparks, published a primer called Tupperware Know-How, and had a 52-minute film, A Tupperware Home Party, made as a training tool. She even convinced Tupper to move the company headquarters to Florida. When Tupper bought property in Kissimmee, Wise turned it into a Mecca-like pilgrimage site for Tupperware devotees.

Part of the power of Wise’s sales technique, which at times seemed more faith than business, was that it gave the impression that the sky was the limit, and it relied on collective power. This wasn’t just the traditional salesperson’s dog-eat-dog world: Instead, the group was a “family” that helped one another climb to the top. Women who had previously only had their names in print upon birth or marriage were being recognized for their success, with their names, photographs, and accomplishments appearing in Wise’s newsletters. Along with making their own money, they received rewards—top distributors got cars—and the chance to collaborate with other women in a friendly but competitive environment. Wise increased the fervor with her annual jubilees, which had their own rituals, like candlelit graduation ceremonies and group sing-alongs featuring choruses of “I’ve got that Tupper feeling deep in my heart.”

“No woman got praised for scrubbing floors,” Elsie Mortland, who became Tupperware’s Home Kitchen Demonstrator, told Kealing in an interview in 2005. “But when they got praised for selling Tupperware, they had something to be proud of.”

Wise was the head of the household, and the Tupperware ladies all wanted to be a part of her extended family. Success was limited only by how hard a person was willing to work, a belief that Wise preached passionately. Unfortunately, she had been duped into thinking her boss shared that opinion.

Alamy

As Wise became the face of Tupperware, sales and press continued to skyrocket. In 1954, she was the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week. But as glowing as the magazine’s profile was, it contained warning signs about the future of her partnership with Tupper. The piece credited Wise and her sales technique with Tupperware’s estimated $25 million in retail sales and seemed to downplay Tupper’s role as president of the company he had created.

Tupper had never craved the spotlight; in fact, he was known to use the back door of his office to avoid attracting attention. But he was keen to ensure that his product, not an employee, received the lion’s share of any attention. And somewhere along the way, Wise had started to upstage the plastic containers she helped make famous. After the Business Week article, Tupper wrote a note to Wise that contained a glimmer of the storm that was to come: “However, good executive as you are, I still like best the pictures ... with TUPPERWARE!”

The good press continued but, in 1955, after several powerful distributors left the company, sales began to lag. Hard times strained Wise and Tupper’s relationship. By 1956, angry letters were flying back and forth between them, and at one point, Tupper stopped taking Wise’s calls. Her complaints and frank criticisms, previously helpful, had become jabs he couldn’t endure. He also started to believe that she was costing him money, irked that she had her own side business selling self-help books at company events. More to the point, he started to suspect that if he tried selling the company—which he was planning to do—having a female executive would get in the way.

Finally, in 1958, Tupper flew to Florida and fired Wise. After a heated legal battle, she received only $30,000 as a settlement. She didn’t own her house and was ordered to vacate. She had no stocks in the company; she didn’t even own many of the clothes she wore. The man she’d helped make a millionaire didn’t seem to care: Tupper ordered her name expunged from the company history and buried the 600 remaining copies of her book in an unmarked pit behind Tupperware’s Florida headquarters. Later that year, he sold the company to Rexall Drug for $16 million, divorced his wife, and bought an island in Central America. He died in Costa Rica in 1983. Wise, on the other hand, tried starting new companies but never achieved the same success she had with Tupperware. She led a quiet life with her horses, pottery, and her son until she died at her home in Kissimmee in 1992.

Her influence, however, has not waned. Today, according to the PBS American Experience documentary Tupperware!, the product is sold in about 100 countries, while “every 2.5 seconds, a Tupperware party is held somewhere in the world.” In this respect, the Golden Age of Tupperware hasn’t ended so much as it has solidified. When was the last time you stored food in a plastic container with a sealing mechanism? Tupperware is so much a part of our food culture that we don’t even think about its continuing influence, and yet we still rely on it daily.

This story is one of reinvention too: a useless plastic reimagined into something needed, of food being stored in wholly new ways, of women emerging from their kitchens to showcase their worth and proclaim their identities, of sales techniques evolving to embrace the customer, and of the singular character of Brownie Wise, who changed what it meant to be a woman in the workforce. Because of that, as Houston Post writer Napoleon Hill wrote in 1956, “It has been estimated that Brownie Wise has helped more women to financial success than any other single living person.”

Early in Wise’s tenure at the company, Tupper presented her with a piece of the raw polyethylene he’d used to make Tupperware. She saw it as poetic proof of his vision: He had created something beautiful from this unappealing glob of plastic, using nothing but imagination and persistence. It was “the best sales story I have ever heard in all my life,” she wrote. She considered “Poly,” as Tupper called it, a prized possession and would have her women touch it for good luck, telling them, “Just get your fingers on it, wish for what you want. Know it’s going to come true, and then get out and work like everything ... and it will!”

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The Confederacy's Plan to Conquer Latin America
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Hulton Archive/Illustrated London News/Getty Images

In the years leading up to the Civil War, many Northerners and Southerners alike wanted the federal government to take a more aggressive approach toward acquiring new territory. In fact, some private citizens, known as filibusters, took matters into their own hands. They raised small armies illegally; ventured into Mexico, Cuba, and South America; and attempted to seize control of the lands. One particularly successful filibuster, William Walker, actually made himself president of Nicaragua and ruled from 1856 to 1857.

For the most part, these filibusters were just men in search of adventure. Others, however, were Southern imperialists who wanted to conquer new territories in the tropics. Abolitionist factions in the North greatly opposed their efforts, and the debate over Southern expansion only increased tensions in a divided nation. As the country drifted into war, U.S. Vice President John Breckinridge of Kentucky warned that "the Southern states cannot afford to be shut off from all possibility of expansion towards the tropics by the hostile action of the federal government."

But Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860 put an end to the argument. The anti-slavery president refused to compromise on the issue, and war broke out in April 1861.

CONFEDERATE COLONIES, SOUTH OF THE BORDER

Winning the war was clearly a higher priority for the Confederacy than conquering Latin America, but growth was certainly on the post-war agenda. The Confederate constitution included the right to expand, and Confederacy president Jefferson Davis filled his cabinet with men who thought similarly. He even hinted that the slave trade could be revived in "new acquisitions to be made south of the Rio Grande."

During the Civil War, Confederate agents attempted to destabilize Mexico so that its territories would be easy to snatch up after the war. One rebel emissary to Mexico City, John T. Pickett, secretly fomented rebellion in several Mexican provinces with an eye to "the permanent possession of that beautiful country." Pickett's mission ended in failure in 1861, but fate dealt the South a better hand in 1863. French Emperor Napoleon III seized Mexico, and the move provided the South with a perfect excuse to "liberate" the country after the Civil War.

Of course, Mexico was just part of the pie that the South hoped to inherit. Confederate leaders also had their eyes squarely on Brazil—a country of 3 million square miles and more than 8 million people. Prior to the outbreak of the war, Matthew Maury, one of the forces behind the U.S. Naval Academy, dispatched two Navy officers to the Amazon basin, ostensibly to map the river for shipping. Instead, they were secretly plotting domination and collecting data about separatist movements in the region. When the South lost the war, Maury refused to abandon his plans. He helped up to 20,000 ex-rebels flee to Brazil, where they established the Confederate colonies of New Texas and Americana. To this day, hundreds of descendants of the Confederados still gather outside Americana to celebrate their shared heritage of rocking chairs and sweet potato pie. In a strange way, a part of the Old South still survives—thousands of miles below the U.S. border.

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