Bette Nesmith Graham
Liquid Paper Inventor
As electric typewriters came into widespread use after World War II, Bette Nesmith Graham and countless other secretaries let out a collective groan. The new machines did make typing easier, but their carbon-film ribbons made it impossible to correct mistakes neatly with a pencil eraser. As a result of this predicament, Graham ended up inventing one of the most widely used office products of the 20th century.
Born in 1924 in Dallas, Texas, Bette Graham dropped out of high school at the age of seventeen and went to secretarial school. By 1951, she had worked her way up to the position of executive secretary for W.W. Overton, the Chairman of the Board of the Texas Bank and Trust. It was at this time that Graham and her colleagues at the bank began experiencing trouble with the new IBM electric typewriters. Tired of having to retype entire pages because of one small error, Graham determined to find a more efficient alternative. Little did she know her frustration would lead to her becoming one of the most famous women inventors of the 20th century.
The impetus for Graham's breakthrough came as she observed painters decorating the bank windows for the holidays. Rather than remove their mistakes entirely, the painters simply covered any imperfections with an additional layer. The quick-thinking Graham mimicked their technique by using a white, water-based tempera paint to cover her typing errors.
When the other secretaries realized how well the invention worked, they flooded Graham with requests for their own supplies. The now-famous woman inventor sold her first batch of "Mistake Out" in 1956, and soon she was working full-time to produce and bottle it from her North Dallas home. Her son Michael – who would later achieve fame as a member of the pop group The Monkees – and his friends helped to fill the growing number of orders for Mistake Out.
Graham continued experimenting with the makeup of the substance until she achieved the perfect combination of paint and several other chemicals. The refined product was renamed "Liquid Paper" in 1958 and, amid soaring demand, Graham applied for a patent and a trademark that same year.
Graham's Liquid Paper Company experienced tremendous growth over the next decade. By 1967, the company had its own corporate headquarters and automated production plant, and sales were in excess of one million units per year. In 1975, Graham moved operations into a 35,000-sq. ft. international Liquid Paper headquarters building in Dallas. She sold the company to Gillette Corporation four years later, just six months before her death in 1980.
For more information on Bette Nesmith Graham, refer to:
Women Inventors: Bette Nesmith Graham
Lemelson-MIT Inventor of the Week: Bette Nesmith Graham