She was a young working mom, and she came up with a great idea; an idea so good, yet so obvious, she was surprised no one had already thought of it. An invention that was the perfect solution to an aggravating problem. And she formulated her invention in her own kitchen.
Bette Nesmith Graham was born in Dallas, Texas in 1924, and raised in San Antonio. After her father passed away in the early 1950s, Bette moved back to Dallas with her son Michael (who was destined to become a member of the legendary rock band The Monkees) and her sister. The three took up residence there, in a house Bette’s father left to her, and Bette quickly got a job as a secretary for a Texas bank, in order to help support her family.
Bette eventually worked her way up to the position of executive secretary. She also worked weekends painting holiday display windows for the bank. She once said of her painting sideline, “[when] lettering, an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error.”
Bette couldn’t use the same technique on her day job, which demanded a lot of typing. Whenever she made a mistake, it had to be laboriously erased. But erasing mistakes was becoming more difficult. The bank switched to electric typewriters, and any rubber eraser stubble that found its way into the mechanical workings would gum up the typewriter. Bette’s solution was to correct her mistakes the same way she did when painting window displays.
“…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.” The bank didn’t approve of this radical method of “whiting out” typos, but Graham continued to secretly use her correction paint for five years. During this time, her corrections largely went unnoticed by her bank bosses —proof that her invention worked.
Bette continued to improve her formula, and coworkers frequently asked to borrow her “paint out.” In 1956, she decided to market her typewriter correction fluid as “Mistake Out.”
Shortly after Bette founded the Mistake Out Company, she had a bit of bad luck: the bank fired her from her typist job. While typing a letter, she inadvertently inserted the name of her own company, instead of the bank’s! Had she caught her mistake, she could have simply painted it out! But misfortune can often work on our behalf: now jobless, Bette decided to devote all her time to her new business.
During the 1960s Bette manufactured, bottled, and sold Mistake Out in her kitchen —mixing the white fluid in her blender! As her correction fluid caught on and soon became an indispensable tool of the secretarial trade, she relocated production and shipping to a 10×26-foot shed in her backyard.
When business seemed more than she could handle, she offered to sell her formula to IBM. The corporation wasn’t interested, so Bette continued to sell her correction fluid from her home for another 17 years. She eventually changed the product name to Liquid Paper, and at the height of her business, she employed 200 people who manufactured 25 million bottles of correction fluid a year.
In 1979 Bette sold the Liquid Paper Company to the Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million. Not bad for a simple idea that started as a cottage industry.
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God — those whom he has called according to his plan.” (Romans 8:28 GOD’S WORD)