The Invention Of Liquid Paper

By Mike Floorwalker on Monday, August 26, 2013
liquid paper
“I’ve made a huge mistake.” —Gob Bluth, Arrested Development

In A Nutshell

Bette Nesmith Graham, an executive secretary for a bank chairman, saw a need and filled it—she invented liquid paper, which would make the lives of office workers and students everywhere more manageable (and make her rich). Her background as an artist gave her inspiration to paint over mistakes.

The Whole Bushel

By the age of 27, Bette Nesmith Graham had achieved the position of executive secretary to the Chairman of the Board of the Texas Bank and Trust—no mean feat, considering it was 1951. But Bette was smarter than most, having dropped out of high school in favor of secretarial trade classes when she was 17, and she came up with a solution to a nagging problem that would make her tenure as executive secretary a short one.

The problem was electric typewriters. Though they made loading paper and typing both faster and more efficient, mistakes were much harder to correct the old way (with a pencil eraser). The use of carbon ribbons meant that rub-outs often left ugly black smears across the document. Bette, who liked to draw and paint in her spare time, wondered why she couldn’t simply paint over her mistakes.

In her blender at home, she mixed up the first batch of a white, quick-drying, water-based tempera paint that she called “Mistake Out.” It worked just as it does today, and of course the others in her secretarial pool wanted to know where they could get some. It very quickly turned into a side business that took up so much of her time, it resulted in her getting fired from her job within the year. It didn’t really matter though—Bette’s product was selling like hotcakes.

Patented, trademarked, and renamed “Liquid Paper” in 1958, Bette’s company was selling a million units per year by 1967, and she sold it to the Gillette Company shortly before her death in 1980, for $47.5 million. Among the earliest employees at her home-based operation was her young son, Michael Nesmith, who would later achieve fame as guitarist for the legendary pop band The Monkees.

Show Me The Proof

Famous Women Inventors: Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham: Liquid Paper