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10 Amazing Ways Video Games Can Change Your Life

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by JR Minkel

They can save your life, crush your soul, make you a fortune, or even leave you penniless. Here are 10 reasons why video games have more real-world power than you think.

1. They Can Make You a Better Surgeon

The next time you go under the knife, make sure to vet your surgeon's video game skills first. In 2007, researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City reported that people who played video games for at least three hours a week made better surgeons. In a series of hands-on tests that mimicked laparoscopic surgery, gamers made 37 percent fewer errors and were 27 percent faster than non-players. Among the 33 surgeons who participated, skill and experience at video games were better predictors of test performance than years of training or even the number of surgeries they'd previously performed.

The study's results confirmed what Dr. James Rosser, Beth Israel's chief of minimally invasive surgery, had long suspected. A lifelong gamer, Rosser noticed that his non-gaming peers didn't have the same fine motor control with their hands that he did. Now that there's proof to back his theory, Rosser and his colleagues have a good excuse for keeping multiple video game systems close to the operating room and playing them in their downtime. After all, a surgeon's got to stay sharp!

2. They Can Marry You

Men have loved video games for a long time, but we know of only one man who has proven his love with a commitment ceremony.

In November 2009, a Japanese man who goes by the name SAL9000 married Nene Anegasaki, one of three female characters in Love Plus, a video game for the handheld Nintendo DS. He even had a priest there to conduct the ceremony in front of a live audience. SAL9000 had been courting his beloved Nene for a long time; he'd already taken her on vacation to Guam and documented the trip online.

Although the wedding wasn't legally binding, it did highlight the popularity of Love Plus and other dating sims, in which the player—usually a man—woos a number of young women by taking them on virtual dates. In most sims, the game ends when the woman professes her love for the player. Love Plus, however, has taken the concept a step further by advancing the relationship past courtship to physical intimacy. When the virtual girlfriend wants affection, the player can simulate kissing or caressing by touching a stylus pen to the screen. When she wants to hear "I love you," the player speaks the words into the game system's microphone. And while SAL9000 used his wedding ceremony as both a performance-art piece and a lighthearted way to affirm his love for his virtual girlfriend, not all gamers are so self-aware. One Love Plus player reportedly keeps his virtual girlfriend near him while he's sleeping and bathing.

3. They Can Teach You How to Build an Empire

In 1984, a 24-year-old game designer named Will Wright published his first game, Raid on Bungeling Bay. The goal was for players to pilot a helicopter over a series of islands, blowing up factories and bridges while dodging enemy fire. As people advanced to the next level, the factories were programmed to produce more sophisticated weapons—fighter jets, missiles, battleships. Realizing that the design tool he used to program the factories was a game in itself, Wright started experimenting with the concept. The result was a new game called Micropolis. This time, the object was to design a city from the ground up. Players built roads, factories, housing, and other infrastructure, and the game progressed according to the principles of urban planning. If the city grew too quickly, traffic congestion set in. If people didn't have enough places to work, they'd riot.

Major game companies were leery of a game that had no criteria for winning, but Wright met a pair of fellow designers who liked the concept. The three retitled the game SimCity and self-published it in 1989. The results were stunning. SimCity became a smash hit in its first year, spawning several sequels. It also launched the category of "sandbox" games, which focus on exploring a game's possibilities rather than winning or losing. Riding on SimCity's success, Wright became the first superstar of game design. In 2000, he released The Sims, which puts players in control of simulated people. It went on to sell more than 15 million copies, making it the best-selling computer game of all time.

4. They Can Overrun ESPN.com with Unicorns


PC World

When gamers need help from a higher power, they know exactly what buttons to press: up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start. The cheat sequence, known as the Konami code, was created by a game programmer named Kazuhisa Hashimoto. In 1985, Hashimoto was trying to adapt the fiendishly difficult Konami game GRADIUS for the Nintendo Entertainment System. To make the game easier to test, he introduced a code that would allow him to start the game fully stocked with weapons. Hashimoto must have leaked the code to someone, because after he used it again while developing the game Contra, entertainment magazines were all atwitter about the trick sequence. When players entered the code in Contra, they went from having three lives to 30 (or nine to 90 with continues), making it possible for average players to win the game in one binge.

The Konami code went on to appear in dozens of games, and it remains a geek touchstone to this day. Until 2009, you could type it into ESPN.com, and the page would fill up with unicorns and rainbows.

5. They Can Make You Crazy Rich

Make no mistake; there's plenty of money to be made playing video games. In the late 1990s, game makers introduced online role-playing games in which thousands, even millions, of online players can vanquish monsters and hunt for treasure while inhabiting virtual worlds. These massively multiplayer online games, or MMOs, encourage players to collect gold coins and other in-game money, and then trade them with other players for more powerful weapons, armor, and equipment.

It sounds innocent, but this virtual market made a quick leap to the real world after users realized that they could sell their make-believe valuables on eBay for a profit. The system, known as gold farming, can be quite lucrative. In 2008, one analyst estimated that gold farming was a billion-dollar industry that employed some 400,000 people worldwide. In China, where 80 to 85 percent of gold farmers reside, companies pay gamers low wages to work 10-hour shifts in sweatshop-like conditions. The firms even have call centers set up to handle international clients, with individual operators fielding as many as 100 calls a day.

The system has vexed video game companies, and they aren't the only ones irritated by the emerging market. In Asia, gold farming has become so prevalent that governments are stepping in to regulate the practice. Both the Chinese and Japanese governments have enforced laws concerning virtual currencies due to the growing number of scams and fraudulent acts taking place in gold-farming communities.

6. They Can Teach You About Starting Over


Collectors' Quest

In the early 1980s, Atari was the hottest commodity in the booming video game industry. In 1982, the company grossed $2 billion, thanks in large part to the release of Space Invaders for the home Atari 2600 system. But the following year, everything changed. The company posted losses of more than $500 million, kicking off a two-year slump that nearly killed the young industry.

Although there were many causes for the decline, one of the biggest had to do with a certain lovable alien. It all started when Atari's parent company, Warner, paid more than $20 million to license E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from Universal Pictures. By the time the contract was signed, Atari had only six weeks to come up with a final product. The end result was a poorly conceived game in which E.T. had to find the pieces of a telephone in order to phone home. As if the storyline weren't dull enough, the game's scavenger hunts were made worse by the fact that many of the pits that E.T. could search through were completely empty. Gamers were left frustrated, and sales were abysmal.

But E.T. wasn't the only dud on the shelves. Third-party publishers started flooding the video game aisles with subpar games, and retailers were forced to slash prices. Even Quaker Oats and Purina got into the gaming business, releasing their own shoddy products. Consumers grew so wary of video games that in 1985, when Nintendo arrived on the scene with the NES, its primary marketing angle was to convince parents that it was offering a toy, not a home video game system.

7. They Can Wreck Your Lives

Most people are able to tear themselves away from a video game eventually, no matter how much fun it is. But the trouble starts when the rewards of playing a game begin to outweigh the benefits of real life.

Such was the case in 2005, when a 28-year-old South Korean man named Lee Seung Seop suffered a fatal heart attack after playing online games for nearly 50 hours straight at an Internet café in the city of Tengu. Sadly, these types of cases are growing in number. According to surveys conducted in the United States and Asia, an estimated 3 to 30 percent of gamers show signs of video game dependency.

Psychologists put the affliction in the same category as pathological gambling. A player experiences a small high after completing a task in a video game, and the high keeps him coming back for more. Over time, the addict requires more and more time in front of the screen to achieve the same high, while the rest of his life is left to crumble.

Treatment centers for gaming have sprung up in a number of countries, including South Korea and China. In 2005, Chinese officials became so concerned about game addiction that they instituted an anti-addiction program online that's designed to prevent people from playing longer than three hours at a time. If that doesn't work, parents are encouraged to send their kids in for game-addiction treatment, which may include counseling, medication, and shock therapy.

8. They Can Shock and Awe

When Nintendo burst onto the home-gaming scene in 1985 with its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), it was determined not to repeat the numerous mistakes of its predecessor, Atari. One of Atari's biggest missteps had been the public relations hit it took in 1982 with the release of Custer's Revenge. The game, created by a third-party publisher, featured a naked General Custer dodging arrows on his mission to have sex with a tied-up Indian princess. Women's rights and Native American's rights groups promptly protested the game, creating a public relations disaster.

Learning from the Custer's Revenge incident, Nintendo made it official policy to review the content of all the games published for its system in the United States to ensure that they were appropriate for America's youngsters. References to sex and drugs were out, as was excessive violence. Nintendo even sanitized the violent games that had already been out in arcades.

Mortal Kombat put an end to this policy. The original arcade version, which was a big hit in 1993, featured characters that punched and kicked each other until they sent blood flying. The brutal game also featured moves called "fatalities," in which players could decapitate their opponents or rip out their hearts. But when Nintendo replaced the blood with sweat and took out the fatalities, the game flopped. Meanwhile, its rival, Sega, released a faithful recreation. Its version of Mortal Kombat outsold Nintendo's three-to-one. (Nintendo eased its policy for the game's sequel.) In 1995, Sony introduced the powerful new PlayStation console, and game developers flocked to a company that would let them express their pent-up creative urges.

9. They Can Clean Your Room

Nintendo designers knew they were breaking the mold when they introduced the world to the Wii in 2005. Instead of sitting still and pressing buttons, players could get up and move, slashing swords and hitting tennis balls by simply swinging the Wii-mote. The secret to the Wii controller is that it contains both an accelerometer, which measures its velocity, and Bluetooth technology, which sends information to the game console wirelessly.

Of course, it didn't take long for techies to figure out how to hack the Wii-mote, sending the wireless signals to other types of electrical devices. These days, clever programmers use their Wii controllers to deejay music, run interactive whiteboards, and even control their Roomba vacuum cleaners—all by waving their Wii-motes like a wand.

10. They Can Steam Things Up

The best-selling video game series Grand Theft Auto is all about freedom—the freedom to steal cars, run people over, and shoot at the cops. But it was the freedom to have sex that got the makers of the game into legal hot water.

In 2004, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the fifth game in the series. In one of the game's subplots, players can send the main character, C.J., on dates with various girlfriends. After enough dates, one girlfriend would invite C.J. into her home for coffee, followed by muffled sounds of fornication. Shortly after the game hit stores, a 36-year-old Dutch techie named Patrick Wildenborg discovered a piece of buried computer code that, when slightly modified, unlocked a scene showing C.J. and his girlfriend in the act. According to on-screen instructions, players could control C.J., pressing up and down to achieve maximum "excitement level."

Wildenborg titled the code "hot coffee" and distributed it online. At first, Rockstar Games denied that the virtual sex was its doing, and insisted that Wildenborg had invented the scene. But hackers quickly uncovered the same code in Rockstar versions made for other gaming systems. The Entertainment Standards Review Board immediately switched the game's rating to Adults Only (18 and up), and stores pulled it from their shelves. In 2009, after lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit alleging consumer fraud, the company settled for $20.1 million.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine in 2010. Pick up a copy wherever brilliant/lots of magazines are sold, request a free issue, or check out our iPad edition.

Can you out-fact the Facts Machine? Go to this post and leave a comment with your own amazing video game fact. If your fact is deemed sufficiently Amazing, you could win the mental_floss t-shirt of your choice.

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John Ueland
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History
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.

AP

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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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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