Plastic, the Miracle Material

 by Maria Ruiz

Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.

In 1946, a man named Earl Tupper invented a non-descript bowl with a lid that could be made air-tight. No one wanted his plain bowl until someone thought maybe ladies could sell it to other ladies while having an evening party with other ladies. Sure enough, the Tupperware parties took off, I think mostly it was an excuse to leave the kids home and spend an evening with other women of the neighborhood. Soon, husbands were coming along to see the new bowls.

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Maria, Ted and their dogs on the road
In 1947, my parents had returned to California to visit all the relatives, and while in Santa Barbara, they were invited to a ‘plastic party.’ At that time, no one knew what plastic was or what it could do. 

They returned from the party, excitedly they explained to all the aunts and uncles they ran into, and produced a plastic kid’s toy truck. My father explained that he could stand on the truck and it wouldn’t break. “No, show us.” The uncles demanded. 

He stood on the top of the truck and nothing happened. Then Uncle Everett stood on it, then Uncle Ernie and finally Uncle Paul who even jumped up and down a few times. The truck remained unbroken, in fact, not even dented. Then my mother produced a bowl which she placed upside down on the floor and she and all the aunts, stood on it one by one. After which, they put some left over dinner in the bowl, fastened the lid, and “burped” the lid. Burping the lid was a phrase invented by Earl Tupper which meant pressing down on the top of the lid which formed a slight vacuum and kept the lid on tightly. Everyone laughed, but when mom turned it over and the lid stayed firm, they all gasped. Aunt Clara, seeing a chance, started taking orders for the bowls.

After the adults had cooed and ahhhed, we kids got to play with the truck. One of us, probably me, pulled the wheels off and finally detached the bed of the truck. It wasn’t indestructible after all, we proved. We put it all back together, and my brother had a new toy truck. 

When we left California for Kansas and Fort Riley, Mom took several bowls and a pitcher with plastic glasses. We used those glasses for years, only replacing them when they were finally lost with metal ones offered at the military store. I don’t remember if Mom had any of those Tupperware parties, but she certainly introduced the line to Junction City.

Twelve years later, back in Santa Barbara, I was married with one small son and a college attending husband. My job at an insurance company covered our necessities, but like all people, we wanted a bit more. I decided to try and sell Tupperware. After all, almost everyone had already seen it. The lady in charge of our side of Santa Barbara came to the house to explain how it worked. 

First, I would need some Tupperware of my own to show my clients: ninety dollars worth of plastic containers and one Popsicle maker. I could buy it on credit, repaying it from the money I would make as I sold at parties. Her parties regularly sold hundreds of dollars and huge number of bowls. Then, at each party, I could probably, most likely, find other women that wanted parties so I would be their contact and I would make a small amount from everything they sold. My handler showed me a chart from the company that showed ladies from my parties out selling and pulling in more sales people. Soon, I would be raking in hundreds of dollars every month. I could hardly believe it, we would soon be able to afford dinners out, a cleaning lady, and on and on. I was already planning my future. 

All that knew me knew that I would be a lousy salesperson. I had never been able to sell anything, not even the cards advertised on the back of the comic books. I gave up and used the cards myself.

While I waited for my Tupperware to arrive, I tried to talk everyone I knew into booking a party. One did, my first. I was so excited, it was to be on a Thursday next week. Now all I needed was my plastic order. On Thursday, the UPS truck pulled up in front of my house. I had been a nervous wreck looking for it, wondering what I would do if it didn’t arrive. Could I sell from showing them pictures? But here it was. 

I unwrapped each and every one, trying to memorize all the things that each piece could be used for. My handler said that if I let the ladies come up with ideas, I wouldn’t need to.

The hours passed slowly waiting for the time for me to show up at the party. Finally the big hand on the clock was approaching the seven, and I packed the bowls into the car. My husband drove me over and helped unpack the merchandise. 

We arrived on the other side of Santa Barbara where my friend lived. I entered the house to see all the ladies sitting on chairs arranged in a semicircle and was told to place all the items in the middle so each person could see. I looked around and noticed that all the ladies were talking to each other in SPANISH!  In fact, I was told by my friend, none of them spoke a word of English.

I didn’t speak Spanish. Not one single word. I stood there like a dumb statue as my husband brought in the ninety dollars worth of Tupperware. I passed a bowl to the lady at the end and she took it, felt it, and passed it on. There they sat, waiting for me to show them. HOW?

Somehow an hour passed and one or two ladies ordered a bowl or two. Total sales for the evening =$12.36 including tax. I called my husband to come and get me and, on the way home, I cried. My dreams of selling hundreds slipped away like each block of houses we passed. 

Somehow, we managed to pay for the bowls I didn’t need or want. Neither of us mentioned it again, and I used the bowls as birthday or baby gifts for over a year. Everyone I knew got a bowl that year and I didn’t go to any more parties.

Maria Ruiz was born in Santa Barbara, California; her family had been there since the Spaniards first converted the Indians & created small towns. She graduated from the University of San Diego State in 1972 & taught for 8 years before starting her own business. After retiring she began a ten-year odyssey to visit and live in 57 countries around the world. She just recently relocated to California. Her book, I’ll be in the Fourth Grade Forever, can be ordered on Smashwords & Amazon. Her blog can be found at


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