American Wealth: Cowboys & Tupperware

1950s Tupperware Party. (Image via Fine Art America)
You can listen to the post here. Sort of like a podcast, but informal. All sources are linked in the post below.

By: Gabriela Yareliz

The United States is known for its entrepreneurial spirit. This idea of taking risks to build or expand something, even if the outcome is uncertain. Name a country that has more group or multi-level marketing businesses than the U.S. of A. By this, I mean companies like Mary Kay, Avon (both sell cosmetics), those companies that sell knives door-to-door or the ones that do the Tupperware parties.

This was much bigger in the 70s, 80s and 90s, but I still see traces of it on car bumper stickers and social media. It was the catalog company and the friendly neighbor or church member who was the rep/distributor/consultant you would order from.

I remember my mom hosted a Mary Kay party when I was little. I will never forget how funny my great aunt looked with one of the face masks on. Some church friends had a troubled nephew come live with them, and they got him in this business selling knives, and he did really well. He sort of got his life back on track, had a purpose and started making money. Some of these companies turn into weird pyramid scheme type dynamics, see Amway (short for The American Way), but the strange dynamics aside, let’s face it– these jobs aren’t easy. Take it from someone who has gone door-to-door with the church to collect canned goods for the needy on Thanksgiving– knocking on a stranger’s door takes guts. Serious guts.

Back in the day, I did an info session for one of these businesses that sell kitchen supplies. After the first day, I decided it was not for me, and I couldn’t juggle graduating early from college and this very people-centered sales approach. I left with a lot of respect for the people who were going to go for it, though.

These companies have interesting histories. Fun fact about Mary Kay: Cars were (and still are) the incentive. “In 1968, Mary Kay Ash purchased the first pink Cadillac from a Dallas dealership, where it was repainted on site to match the “Mountain Laurel Blush” in a compact Ash carried. The Cadillac served as a mobile advertisement for the business. The following year, Ash rewarded the company’s top five salespeople with similarly painted 1970 Coupe de Ville cars. GM has painted over 100,000 custom cars for Mary Kay.” (Source) Mary Kay still gives different types of vehicles for different levels of sales, I believe. I found this interesting.

The Mary Kay Cadillac. (Image via Mary Kay Global)

Regarding Avon, “Avon’s founder, David H. McConnell, initially sold books as a door-to-door salesman to New York homes. In September 1886, he decided to sell perfumes rather than books. He started the new business in a small office at 126 Chambers Street, Manhattan, New York.” (Source)

Madame C.J. Walker (Image via

As a kid, I loved reading about Madame C.J. Walker and how she became the first female self-made millionaire. She was orphaned by the age of seven, but nothing stopped her. (Source) I remember an American Girl book I had about Samantha had a whole section about her.

While the multi-level marketing business has shifted to probably essential oils and fitness and weight loss powders, the American sales spirit is alive and well. It is just different. #capitalismbaby

I truly think that this spirit is a part of our history. The beloved series Little House on the Prairie is one of many books that illustrate the American tenacity, resilience and sense of adventure people around the globe recognize and revere. When I think about our country’s sense of adventure, I think beyond the arrival here, but of the expansion to the West. I truly believe this is the appeal of the very popular show Yellowstone. This TV show, with its land battles and cowboys, reminds us of rugged adventure and life on our own terms (plus the tensions and losses that come with it).

Image via Messy Nessy Chic

The idea of the cowboy (as we think of it today) comes from right here in North America (modeled after the European settler ways). It was a type of animal herder (typically herding cattle on horseback). (Source) Ironically, “‘Cowboy’ was [also] used during the American Revolution to describe American fighters who opposed the movement for independence.” Id. Very interesting!

The idea of the cowboy has been romanticized, but the life was tough. It also came with a lot of complexity. An interesting piece on the black cowboy explains: “Growing up, many Americans are taught to see Manifest Destiny as this thrilling spectrum of possibility – a blueprint for bravery, with the occasional dash of Donner Party crazy. ‘The whole idea of taming the West,’ says Ron Tarver, ‘well, basically, you’re just uprooting indigenous people.’ The history of the Mexican-American cowboy, for example, is very complex, and interwoven with that of the black cowboy. It opens a layered conversation about integration, adaptation, and survival. This, too, has been superseded by cowboy whitewashing. Colonialism, but make it Marlboro.” (Source) We all know the smoking packets have that cowboy as an advertisement. You can read more about the black cowboys at that link.

The idea here is not to “whitewash.” (I am not white). The truth is America has cowboys of all shades and backgrounds. No matter what the shade, we are all American. The idea is to look back at all the people who took the chances they took, and they did it because of bravery. If you have a hunger for winning, this country feeds it. This is part of the American legacy. The truth is, a great deal of American history takes place in the wilderness. There is clash, conflict and integration. There are wild creatures you have to beat before they eat you. Deep in the woods and fields of uncertainty, we dare. Boldness, community and resourcefulness, it’s part of American Wealth.

Image via Pinterest

Published by Gabriela Yareliz

Gabriela is a writer, editor and attorney. She loves the art of storytelling, and she is based in NYC.

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