Notes to Women

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Bette Nesmith Graham

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I remember when I used to use Liquid Paper like paint, smearing it over the mistakes I made making my pages look messy.  I discovered today that it was a woman who invented this wonderful liquid eraser.   

Bette Nesmith Graham never imagined that she would be an inventor.  She was a divorced mother, trying to support her young son.  She learned typing and shorthand and got a job as an Executive Secretary.  She was an efficient worker who took great pride in her work and she searched for a better way to correct typing errors. It occurred to her that if artists painted over their mistakes on canvas why couldn’t typists paint over their mistakes too?

She set about preparing what was originally called “mistake out”.  She 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.

Things rapidly progressed from there.  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 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 (http://inventors.about.com/od/lstartinventions/a/liquid_paper.htm). 

Liquid paper became a widely used office product in the 20th century and a lifesaver for many office workers, thanks to a secretary who out of frustration with having to retype pages because of mistakes, decided that there had to be a better way. 

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