who invented liquid paper

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Who invented liquid paper? Learn about the life of Bette Nesmith Graham.

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Bette Clair McMurray Graham, born in San Antonio, Texas was an inventor and entrepreneur.  Before World War II she met a man named Nesmith.  She married Michael Nesmith and had one son, whom she named Michael.  Her son, Michael, was a member of the musical band called The Monkees.  She divorced Michael's father in 1946 and remarried in 1964.  

In 1951, as a single mother, Bette Nesmith Graham got a secretarial job with Texas Bank & Trust.  She was a secretary to the chairman of the board and also worked as a freelance artist.  She was one of the few secretaries using the new IBM typewriter.  When she tried to erase her mistakes, the ink left nasty smudges on the paper.  With a lot of hard work and determination, she worked her way up from the typing pool to becoming an executive secretary.

Of course, her worst enemy became the electric typewriter.  These new machines contained carbon-film ribbons and Graham found her work to look messy when she tried to erase her mistakes with a pencil eraser.  As she watched holiday window painters eliminate smudges in their work, an idea began to form.  If the window painters could brush over flaws and smudges, then why could she not do the same for typewritten mistakes?

Two years later, an idea occurred to Bette to use tempera paint to cover her mistakes. The other secretaries noticed this white substance, which she named Mistake Out, for the removal of typographical errors.  Soon the secretaries were using the substance to sweep their mistakes under the rug.  Her next hurdle was to try and recruit experts to assist her in producing Mistake Out.  Finally, she convinced an office supply dealer to assist her, along with a local chemistry teacher, and an employee of a paint manufacturing company.  

In 1956, using her kitchen blender she combined paint with other chemicals to develop and refine her product.  During 1956, Bette labeled her product “Mistake Out”.  Bette’s son, Michael, and his friends began filling bottles with the mixture for Mistake Out.  Hundreds of bottles were filled per month.  The demand for her invention soared and the production increased to thousands of bottles being produced.  IBM was her first company to try and persuade to market her invention, but to no avail.  

In 1958, an office trade magazine gave a brief description of the renamed Liquid Paper.  This helped to produce 500 orders across the United States.  The General Electric Company placed the first single order for 400 bottles in three colors.  This was four times her normal monthly production.  One day on her job she had a brainstorm and put the name of her company on her employer’s letterhead.  As you can guess, she was terminated from this position.  But that did not matter because “The Liquid Paper Company” was now generating 25 million bottles a year.  

After leaving Texas Bank & Trust, she devoted all of her energy to the marketing of Liquid Paper.  Bad luck again stepped in during 1960 when the company’s income was below the expenses.  Finally, in 1963-64 the weekly production of Liquid Paper produced tenfold its weekly supply.  It increased from 500 to 5,000 bottles.  

Robert Graham and Bette Graham were married in 1962 and he joined the business.  In 1968 the company sold a million bottles and moved into its own plant.  By 1975, an international headquarters was established in Dallas and 500 bottles a minute were being produced.  Since the Graham’s relationship was deteriorating, they were divorced in 1975.  In order to protect her invention she applied for a patent and a trademark.

The company, Liquid Paper, Inc., grew to an employment of 200 people in 1975.  During this year 25 million bottles of Liquid Paper were made and 31 countries were the recipients of Graham's invention.  In 1975 she retired as chairman of the board and Robert Graham took her place.  The board of directors for the Liquid Paper Corporation attempted to change the formula.  They also attempted to eliminate Bette’s royalties, and as expected, she disputed the decision.  

As Bette soon found out her corporate background would not survive her absence.  She gave credit to her success to Christian Science religion.  She was known as an entrepreneur that encouraged employees to participate in decision-making processes.  She played a major part in the design of the company plant for communication and comfort as well as productivity.  The design of the plant included a library, a child-care center, and a greenbelt.  

Bette Graham and the Gihon Foundation established the Bette Clair McMurray Foundation in 1976 in 1978.  Bette used royalties from her formula for establishing this foundation.  The purpose of these two foundations was to support women’s welfare and also to generate more efforts in business and arts.

Graham also planned to build a house for the foundations and the art collection at the time of her death.  She described herself as a “feminist who wants freedom for myself and everybody else.”  She died on May 12, 1980 and left a fortune to be divided between her son and the large charitable foundation she’d set up.