Friday, April 27, 2012

The Invention of Liquid Paper

The debut of Liquid Paper in 1956 developed by secretary Bette Nesmith Graham revolutionized the work of thousands of clerical workers in the nation's capital. Although I remember using it several years later at the Republican National Committee, we were strictly forbidden to use Liquid Paper, Ko-Rec-Type, even erasure at The White House.

Graham was the mother of Michael Nesmith, founding member of The Monkees. As a  single mother, she supported Michael and herself as a secretary at the Texas Bank Trust in Dallas. With the introduction of electric typewriters in the 1950s, she discovered that typos couldn't easily be erased. Her second job painting the bank's windows during the holiday season was the inspiration behind what is now known as "Liquid Paper." Graham noticed “with lettering, an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office. I used that to correct my mistakes.” 

A coworker saw Graham using her homemade invention, and asked for a sample. Graham poured it into a bottle and labeled it “Mistake Out." Soon all of the secretaries began asking for samples. In 1956, Graham founded the Mistake Out Company, fine-tuning her formula in her kitchen blender. Michael and his friends helped fill the bottles. In 1957, she sold about 100 bottles a month. The story goes that Graham was fired from her job for a mistake she was unable to correct. By then, demand for the product increased to the point that Graham could afford to pay herself and hire part-time employees. In 1961, 13 years after developing Liquid Paper, Graham hired her first full-time employee. Of course, the rest is history. In 1979, Graham sold the company to Gillette for $47.5 million. She passed away in 1980 leaving her estate to Michael and charitable organizations. 

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