March 23, 2013
Bette Nesmith was an executive secretary at a Dallas bank in 1951 when her boss rewarded her with a new electric typewriter. Nesmith was not a great typist, and the carbon film ribbons wreaked havoc on her attempts to make corrections.
Nesmith, a high school dropout and a single mother, who had taught herself shorthand and typing to get her job as a secretary, though she really wanted to be an artist, was accomplished at overcoming obstacles. So, in her kitchen, she began experimenting with ways to solve this problem. Remembering her dream, she thought … artists paint over their mistakes … why couldn’t a typist?
She settled on a white water-based tempura paint mixture that matched the bank’s paper; she made the solution in her kitchen blender, and used it to cover her mistakes. When the paint mixture dried, she typed over her mistake. Other secretaries began demanding bottles of her fix, so she gave it a name, “Mistake Out,” and shared it.
She reached out to a chemistry teacher, an employee of a local paint-manufacturing company, and an office-supply dealer to get help in improving the quality of her mixture, and by 1956 she had expanded from her kitchen to her garage. Her 13-year-old son, Michael, helped out mixing and packaging bottles for the secretaries at the Texas Bank & Trust. She filed for a patent and changed the name to Liquid Paper®.
When a small office products trade paper mentioned Liquid Paper in 1958 it generated lots of orders, including a large order for Liquid Paper in three colors from General Electric. Her little company was starting to take off, and when Nesmith accidentally put her own company’s name on letter she typed for her boss, she was fired and devoted fulltime to building her company.
Nesmith was born Bette Claire McMurray on March 23, 1924, in Dallas. She was not a great student and dropped out of high school when she was 17. She married her high school sweetheart, Warren Nesmith, the next year; they divorced in 1946, when Michael was four. She married Robert Graham in 1962; they divorced in 1975.
In 1960, fired from her job, she began building her company; though she had been selling several hundred bottles a month, she did not make any money. Now, however, she had time to devote to selling, and by 1964, she was shipping 5,000 bottles a week. In 1968, she moved out of her garage, built a plant, and was producing 10,000 bottles a day. In 1970, she sold 5 million bottles. In 1976, after moving to new headquarters, she had 200 employees, sold 25 million bottles around the world, and spent over a $1 million on advertising.
Gillette Corporation bought her out in 1979 for $47.5 million. She died the next year, on May 12.
Her son, and first employee, Michael, had his own interesting career, playing guitar for “The Monkees,” from 1965 to 1970, and starring in the eponymous television series, 1966-68.