The canny typist who turned other people’s mistakes into a multi-million dollar business
In 1954, Bette Nesmith Graham was working as a secretary at the Texas Bank & Trust in Dallas.
Bette was a single mother and a divorcee struggling to make ends meet.
She was also not a particularly good typist. The frequent mistakes she would make with her typewriter would incur the wrath of her boss.
In her spare time, she enjoyed painting and every holiday season she would help with decorating the windows of the bank.
As she observed the artists at work, she noticed something that would provide her with the inspiration to design a new type of product that eventually made her a multi-millionaire.
Instead of erasing their mistakes, the artists would simply paint over them. Bette decided to try the same approach at work.
Using a fast-drying water based tempera paint she mixed in her kitchen blender she concealed her typing blunders with a fine paint brush.
Some of her colleagues accused her of cheating and one boss asked her not to use the ‘white stuff’ on his letters.
Nevertheless, other secretaries began asking her for their own supply and soon she was working late into the night filling bottles with the magical product she called ‘Mistake Out.’
Recognising the potential of her side project to cure her financial worries she renamed the correction fluid ‘Liquid Paper’ and applied for a patent and trade mark.
And then the hard work began.
Using her teenage son and his friends as employees and her home as a factory she travelled at the weekends all over Texas to market her product.
Slowly but surely, Bette began to expand her operation and moved from the kitchen to a trailer and finally to an office in downtown Dallas.
At its peak in 1975, the company produced 25 million bottles a year and Bette eventually sold the organisation to Gillette for $47.5 million.
Sadly, she passed way just six months later from a stroke aged only 56.