Bette Nesmith GrahamThe Engineer
posted on October 02, 2006 |
It was originally called "mistake out" and was the invention of Bette Nesmith Graham, a secretary in Dallas and a single mother raising a son, Michael (The Monkees). Bette was an artist and use to handling paints and inks. She used her own kitchen blender to mix up her first batch of liquid paper, the substance used to cover up mistakes made on paper.
Graham never intended to be an inventor; she wanted to be an artist. But shortly after World War II ended, she found herself divorced with a small child to support. She learned shorthand and typing and got a job 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?
Graham put some tempera waterbase 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.
In 1956, 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. But 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.
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 she 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.
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.