Bette Nesmith Graham

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Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham.jpg
Bette Nesmith Graham, with son Michael
Bette Clair McMurray

(1924-03-23)March 23, 1924
DiedMay 12, 1980(1980-05-12) (aged 56)
EducationHigh school graduate
Known forInvention of Liquid Paper
Warren Audrey Nesmith (1919-1984) (m. 1942–1946)

Robert Graham (m. 1962–1975)
ChildrenMichael Nesmith
Parent(s)Jesse McMurray
Christine Duval McMurray

Bette Nesmith Graham (March 23, 1924 – May 12, 1980) was an American typist, commercial artist, and the inventor of white-out. She was the mother of musician and producer Michael Nesmith of The Monkees.[1]


Graham was born Bette Clair McMurray, in Dallas, Texas, to Jesse McMurray, an automotive supply company manager, and Christine Duval.[2] She was raised in San Antonio and graduated from Alamo Heights High School.[3] She married Warren Audrey Nesmith (1919–1984) before he left to fight in World War II. While he was overseas she had a child (Robert Michael Nesmith, born December 30, 1942). After Warren Nesmith returned home, they divorced (1946). Her father died in the early 1950s, leaving some property in Dallas to Bette. She, her mother, Michael, and her sister Yvonne moved there. To support herself as a single mother, she worked as a secretary at Texas Bank and Trust. She eventually attained the position of the executive secretary, the highest position open at that time to women in the industry.

It was difficult to erase mistakes made by early electric typewriters, which caused problems. To make extra money, she used her talent painting holiday windows at the bank. She realized as she said, "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 to correct my mistakes."

Graham secretly used her white correction paint for five years, making some improvements with help from her son's chemistry teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. Some bosses admonished her against using it, but coworkers frequently sought her "paint out". She eventually began marketing her typewriter correction fluid as "Mistake Out" in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper when she began her own company.[4]

Mistake Out started the 1960s operating at a small loss, with Nesmith's home doubling as company headquarters. As the product became an indispensable tool of the secretarial trade, Nesmith relocated production and shipping from her kitchen to a 10 foot-by-26 foot portable metal structure in her backyard, where packaging, shipping, and production were centered.[5]

Bette Nesmith married Robert Graham in 1962; he joined her in running the company.[6] They divorced in 1975.[7]

She sold Liquid Paper to the Gillette Corporation for USD $47.5 million in 1979. At the time, her company employed 200 people and made 25 million bottles of Liquid Paper per year.[8]

Bette Nesmith died on May 12, 1980, at the age of 56, in Richardson, Texas.[9]

Management style[edit]

From the start, Graham ran her company with a unique combination of spirituality, egalitarianism, and pragmatism. Raised a Methodist, Graham converted to Christian Science in 1942, and this faith-inspired the development of her corporate "Statement of Policy". Part-code of ethics, part-business philosophy, it covered everything from her belief in a "Supreme Being" to a focus on decentralized decision making and an emphasis on product quality over the pursuit of profit. She also believed that women could bring a more nurturing and humanistic quality to the male world of business, and provided a greenbelt with a fish pond, an employee library, and a childcare center in her new company headquarters in 1975.[10]


Her only son, a musician Michael Nesmith (best known as a member of The Monkees), inherited half of his mother's estate of over $50 million.[11] A portion financed the Gihon Foundation which established the Council on Ideas, a think tank with a retreat center located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico active from 1990 to 2000 and devoted to exploring world problems.[12] In 2018 The New York Times published a belated obituary for her.[13]


  1. ^ "Bette Nesmith Graham". Famous Women Inventors. Retrieved March 18, 2010.
  2. ^ Texas Birth Index, "Robert Micheal Nesmith" born 1942, retrieved from, lists his mother's full birth name.
  3. ^ "Gihon Foundation, 1793 Catalina Street, Sand City, CA 93955". Unknown parameter |access date= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  4. ^ Blattman, Elissa (2013), "Three Every-day Items Invented by Women", National Women's History Museum
  5. ^ James, Edward T., ed. (2004). Notable American women. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 244. ISBN 9780674014886.
  6. ^ "Bette Nesmith Graham" (PDF). Celebrating Texas. Retrieved March 18, 2010.
  7. ^ "Robert Michael Nesmith".
  8. ^ "Gillette Paper Pact". The New York Times. September 21, 1979. Retrieved July 21, 2007. The Gillette Company said it had agreed to acquire the Liquid Paper Corporation for about $47.5 million in cash. Liquid Paper, which is privately held, earned more than $3.5 million on sales of $38 million in its fiscal year ended April 30.
  9. ^ "Dies at 56". Associated Press in The Tuscaloosa News. May 15, 1980. Retrieved March 18, 2010. Bette Claire Graham, inventor of Liquid Paper ... She was the mother of Michael Nesmith, who was a member of the defunct Monkees rock group.
  10. ^ James, Edward T., ed. (2004). Notable American women. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 244. ISBN 9780674014886.
  11. ^ Hollander, Nicole (February 14, 1988). "From The Folks Who Gave You Liquid Paper". The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2010. One Monkee, Michael Nesmith, didn't need the money. He had inherited $25 million from his mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, who invented Liquid Paper.
  12. ^ "The Gihon Foundation". Unknown parameter |access date= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  13. ^ "Overlooked No More: Bette Nesmith Graham, Who Invented Liquid Paper - The New York Times". Retrieved July 13, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek (2002). Patently Female: From AZT to TV Dinners, Stories of Women Inventors and Their Breakthrough Ideas. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-02334-5.
  • "Historical Inventors". LEMELSON-MIT.

External links[edit]