Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Clair McMurray
March 23, 1924
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
|Died||May 12, 1980 (aged 56)|
Richardson, Texas, U.S.
|Education||High school graduate|
|Known for||Invention of Liquid Paper|
Warren Audrey Nesmith (1919-1984)
Christine Duval McMurray
Bette Nesmith Graham (March 23, 1924 – May 12, 1980) was an American typist, commercial artist, and the inventor of the correction fluid Liquid Paper. She was the mother of musician and producer Michael Nesmith of The Monkees.
Born in 1924 in Dallas, Texas, Bette Graham dropped out of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio at the age of seventeen and went to secretarial school. By 1951, she had worked her way up to the position of executive secretary for W. W. Overton, the Chairman of the Board of the Texas Bank and Trust. It was at this time that Graham and her colleagues at the bank began experiencing trouble with the new IBM electric typewriters. Tired of having to retype entire pages because of one small error, Graham determined to find a more efficient alternative. Her frustration would lead to her becoming one of the most famous women inventors of the 20th century.
The impetus for Graham's breakthrough came as she observed painters decorating the bank windows for the holidays. Rather than remove their mistakes entirely, the painters simply covered any imperfections with an additional layer. The quick-thinking Graham mimicked their technique by using a white, water-based tempera paint to cover her typing errors.
When the other secretaries realized how well the invention worked, they flooded Graham with requests for their own supplies. The inventor sold her first batch of "Mistake Out" in 1956, and soon she was working full-time to produce and bottle it from her North Dallas home. Her son Michael – who would later achieve fame as a member of the pop group The Monkees – and his friends helped to fill the growing number of orders for Mistake Out.
Graham continued experimenting with the makeup of the substance until she achieved the perfect combination of paint and several other chemicals. The refined product was renamed "Liquid Paper" in 1958 and, amid soaring demand, Graham applied for a patent and a trademark that same year.
Graham's Liquid Paper Company experienced tremendous growth over the next decade. By 1967, the company had its own corporate headquarters and automated production plant, and sales were in excess of one million units per year. In 1975, Graham moved operations into a 35,000-sq. ft. international Liquid Paper headquarters building in Dallas. Eventually, she opted to sell the company to Gillette Corporation for over $47.5 million in 1979. Following this success and massive growth in wealth, Graham would go on to establish two foundations, the Gihon Foundation, which gave grants and financial support to promote women in the arts, and the Bette Clair McMurray Foundation, which did the same for women in business. She died shortly afterward on May 12, 1980, due to complications of a stroke. She left her fortune to her son, who took over her foundations that empower striving women.
Graham’s impact on her revolutionary invention, “Liquid Paper” shows its relevance through its longevity of use to even today. From its fruition in 1956, Graham’s invention is now in virtually every office desk and supply cabinet around the world. The substance, Liquid Paper, the correction fluid relieves writers of all stripes from the pressure of perfection.
From the start, Graham ran her company with a unique combination of spirituality, egalitarianism, and pragmatism. Raised a Baptist, 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.
Her only son, musician Michael Nesmith, inherited half of his mother's estate of over $50 million. 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. Additionally, a portion of Graham's estate financed the Betty Clair McMurray Foundation, which focuses on supporting projects such as the exhibit "Texas Women, A Celebration of History," career guidance for unwed mothers, shelter and counseling for battered women, and college scholarships for mature women. As part of its effort to acknowledge prominent people who had been previously overlooked, in 2018 The New York Times published a belated obituary for her.
- "Bette Nesmith Graham". Famous Women Inventors. Retrieved March 18, 2010.
- James, Edward T., ed. (2004). Notable American Women. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 244. ISBN 9780674014886.
- 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.
- "The Gihon Foundation". Retrieved December 11, 2010.
- Jones, Nancy. "Graham, Bette Clair McMurray (1924–1980)". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
- "Overlooked No More: Bette Nesmith Graham, Who Invented Liquid Paper". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2018.
- 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. Archived from the original on August 3, 2019. Retrieved March 22, 2019.