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Liquid Paper - Bette Nesmith Graham (1922-1980)

From Mary Bellis,
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Bette Nesmith Graham used a kitchen blender to create liquid paper.

It was originally called "mistake out", the invention of Bette Nesmith Graham, a Dallas secretary and a single mother raising a son* on her own. Graham used her own kitchen blender to mix up her first batch of liquid paper or white out, a substance used to cover up mistakes made on paper.

Background - Bette Nesmith Graham

Bette Nesmith Graham never intended to be an inventor; she wanted to be an artist. However, shortly after World War II ended, she found herself divorced with a small child to support. She learned shorthand and typing and found employment as an executive secretary. An efficient employee who took pride in her work, Graham sought a better way to correct typing errors. She remembered that artists painted over their mistakes on canvas, so why couldn’t typists paint over their mistakes?

Invention of Liquid Paper

Bette Nesmith Graham put some tempera waterbased paint, colored to match the stationery she used, in a bottle and took her watercolor brush to the office. She used this to correct her typing mistakes… her boss never noticed. Soon another secretary saw the new invention and asked for some of the correcting fluid. Graham found a green bottle at home, wrote "Mistake Out" on a label, and gave it to her friend. Soon all the secretaries in the building were asking for some, too.

Bette Nesmith Graham - The Mistake Out Company

In 1956, Bette Nesmith Graham started the Mistake Out Company (later renamed Liquid Paper) from her North Dallas home. She turned her kitchen into a laboratory, mixing up an improved product with her electric mixer. Graham’s son, Michael Nesmith (later of The Monkees fame), and his friends filled bottles for her customers. Nevertheless, she made little money despite working nights and weekends to fill orders. One day an opportunity came in disguise. Graham made a mistake at work that she couldn’t correct, and her boss fired her. She now had time to devote to selling Liquid Paper, and business boomed.

Bette Nesmith Graham and Liquid Paper's Success

By 1967, it had grown into a million dollar business. In 1968, she moved into her own plant and corporate headquarters, automated operations, and had 19 employees. That year Bette Nesmith Graham sold one million bottles. In 1975, Liquid Paper moved into a 35,000-sq. ft., international headquarters building in Dallas. The plant had equipment that could produce 500 bottles a minute. In 1976, the Liquid Paper Corporation turned out 25 million bottles. Its net earnings were $1.5 million. The company spent $1 million a year on advertising, alone.

Bette Nesmith Graham believed money to be a tool, not a solution to a problem. She set up two foundations to help women find new ways to earn a living. Graham died in 1980, six months after selling her corporation for $47.5 million.

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