The Invention of Liquid Paper.

Barbara10Broek By Barbara10Broek, 5th Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

Discusses the invention of liquid paper and its inventor Bette Nesmith Graham.

Bette Nesmith Graham

Bette Nesmith Graham was a perfect example of necessity as the mother of invention. She founded what was to become a multi-million dollar enterprise because she was a poor typist. Rather than lose her job, she cheated on her typing pool assignments by covering up her mistakes with white paint. By the time of her death in 1980, Liquid Paper was a worldwide Corporation and the staple of offices everywhere. Bette left a $50 million fortune. The fact that half the money went to her son, former Monkee Michael Nesmith is one reason the video is so popular today. Michael invested his inheritance in Pacific Arts Studio, a forerunner in the production of video music.

Bette Nesmith Graham was born Bette Claire McMurray on March 23, 1924, in Dallas, Texas, to an auto wholesaler and a housewife who dabbled in painting, singing and needlework. Her sister, Yvonne, remembers Bette as "strong-willed and determined to do her own thing." Always a discipline problem in school, Bette dropped out at 17 and applied for a job as a secretary in a law firm, even though she couldn't type. The firm liked her spirit, though, and sent her to secretarial school. In the evenings, she earned her high school diploma.

In 1942 Bette married her high school sweetheart, Warren Nesmith, and their son Michael was born on December 30, 1943. By this time, Warren was off to war. Becky became a single, working mother at age 19. Since then the Nesmiths divorced shortly after Warren returned from the service in 1946, that status was to last until she married Bob Graham in 1964.

By 1951 Becky Nesmith had managed to provide a home for herself and her son and had worked her way up the career ladder to a position as executive secretary at the Texas Bank & Trust in Dallas. And this is where her hastily learned secretarial skills got her into trouble. The new IBM typewriters, with their carbon film ribbons, left a terrible mess behind when you tried to erase a typographical error.

"I remembered trying to make a little extra money by helping design the holiday windows at the bank," recalled me Smith. "With lettering, an artist never corrects by erasing but always pains over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office. And I used that to correct my typing mistakes."

For almost 5 years, Bette would sneak her bottle of white paint out of the drawer and correct her typos. It was considered cheating, a way of passing herself off as a better typist than she was. Once, when she changed jobs, her new boss admonished her, "Don't use any of that white stuff on my letters."

The boss might not have approved, but the gals in the typing pool new good thing when they saw it. After the umpteenth coworker asked Bette for a bottle of her magic potion, she went home and made the first batch of what the hand-painted label called "Mistake Out." In 1956 she had a cottage business is going, supplying bottles of Mistake Out to secretaries at Texas Bank & Trust. Later that year she was encouraged to market the product publicly. She changed the name to Liquid Paper and began the tedious job of trademarking and patenting the product. First, however, she decided to improve the formula.

“I went to the library and found the formula for a type of tempera paint," she recalled. "A chemistry teacher from Michael's school helped me a bit. I learned how to grind and mix paint from a man at a paint manufacturing company."

Using her kitchen as a lab and her garage as a bottling factory, Bette worked nights and weekends perfecting a quick-drying, undetectable, cover-up fluid. She offered it to IBM, which declined. She decided to market it herself.

By the end of 1957, Liquid Paper was selling 100 bottles per month, bottles that were filled out of school is a bold ketchup and mustard containers by young Michael and his friends in the family garage. After an article about the product appeared in a national office supply magazine, the hundreds of bottles became thousands of bottles. Yet Bette kept her day job until the morning she was fired for accidentally typing "The Liquid Paper Company" on the bottom of the letter, instead of her employer's name.

It took a long time for "The Liquid Paper Company" to become profitable. In 1966, Michael was earning far more as a member of television’s "prefab four" then his mother was as owner and founder of Liquid Paper, Inc. And then things started to take off. In 1968 Liquid Paper grossed more than $1 million, producing in excess of 10,000 bottles a day.

In 1975 Liquid Paper employed 200 people, producing the 25 million of bottles of the stuff, and distributed it to 31 countries. Bette Nesmith resigned as chairman of the board, bowing to devote the rest of her life to her charities, religion, and art. In 1979 the Gillette Corp. bought Liquid Paper or $47.5 million, plus a royalty to Bette Nesmith Graham on every bottles sold until the year 2000. We she died on May 12, 1980, Bette Nesmith Graham left half her fortune to her son and a half to her philanthropic foundations.


Bette Nesmith Graham, Invention, Inventions, Inventor, Liquid Paper

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author avatar juny
5th Sep 2011 (#)

Thanks for sharing this very nice story ,now I know how liquid paper started and who invented woman :)

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
5th Sep 2011 (#)

Very, very interesting. Thank you Barbara.

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author avatar Sloan
27th Sep 2011 (#)

Sweet i'm doing a powerpoint for school on this woman. We are supposed to find someone who has the same birth day as us. So here she is. Thanks for this article.

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author avatar Bets
31st Oct 2011 (#)

My eye caught your title thus readily gazed thru and read your article. It is very interesting since my name reflects the inventor's name. I use to watch The Monkee's Show every evening after coming home from high school. That was when I first heard Elvis's "Little Sister" and "Marie's the Name of His Latest Flame." Heey heey for the Monkee's and Michael's mother's contribution to our world of business. Now being glad I found this article, I am now a follower of you and your works. BTW, I did see some typos throughout the article. Just thought I'd let you know. Sometimes I write in word perfect, make corrections, then post my 'stuff'. Hope that idea helps. Otherwise, you have cleared the quest of my curiosity about 'write-out' or 'liquid paper.' Thnx allot. Smiles, Bets

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