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To Err is Human, to Correct, Divine

Written by Lori Grossman.
Bette Graham, inventor of Liquid Paper, concocted her original correction fluid, called “Mistake Out,” using her electric mixer in her Dallas kitchen. When she died in 1980 at age 56, her estate was worth about $50 million.

Born in San Antonio in 1924, Bette Clair McMurray dreamed of becoming an artist, but World War II changed her plans. She left high school and married her sweetheart; when the war ended, her marriage did, too. Bette Nesmith was on her own, a single mother with a son to support.

After relocating to Dallas, Bette found a secretarial position at Texas Bank and Trust, where, in 1954, an electric typewriter replaced her old manual model. More sensitive to touch, the new machine led to typing errors and unsightly erasures.

“I put some water-based tempera paint in a bottle, took it and my watercolor brush to the office, and I used that to correct my typing mistakes,” Bette later said.

Other secretaries requested their own supply, which Bette then called “Mistake Out.” By 1956, she had started her own home-based business. Unable to afford experts’ fees, she did her own legal paperwork, product research, and experimenting with formulas. Her son, Michael (who later would become famous in his own right, as a member of The Monkees rock group), and his friends pitched in, helping fill bottles.

When IBM turned down Bette’s proposal to market and sell Liquid Paper, Bette did it herself—all the while holding a full-time job. A big breakthrough came in October 1958, when The Office magazine mentioned Liquid Paper. General Electric placed an order for some 300 bottles.

After Bette married Robert Graham in 1962, the couple traveled promoting the product. By 1968, Bette had moved her business to its own plant and corporate headquarters. In 1975, the Liquid Paper Corporation took up residence in its new, 35,000-square-foot international headquarters, in Dallas.

Bette Graham retired as chairman of the board in 1976. Using product royalties, she established two organizations, the Bette Clair McMurray Foundation (1976) and the Gihon Foundation (1978), whose mission is “the implementation of inspired, productive ideas.”

Gillette bought the Liquid Paper Corporation in 1979 for $47.5 million. Bette Graham died unexpectedly the following year.

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