Where did White Out Come From?

Bette Nesmith invents whiteout

“The biggest rule breakers change our processes. They literally change how we work. Sometimes failure can be the inspiration. Who would imagine that being a mediocre typist could make you a millionaire? But for Bette Nesmith, an executive secretary at the Texas Bank & Trust in Dallas in 1951, it was an opportunity waiting to be exploited. Nesmith learned something critical while helping decorate the holiday windows at the bank. The artists corrected their mistakes by painting over the error. Nesmith decided to try the same at work, a telling example of how observation can lead to successful cross-pollination.

Some considered her little swipes of tempura water-based paint “cheating” and one boss warned her not to use the “white stuff” on his letters. But soon Nesmith had a cottage business supplying Mistake Out to fellow secretaries. She renamed the fast-drying, nondetectable fluid Liquid Paper and applied for a patent and trademark. IBM wasn’t interested in buying her business, so Nesmith plowed ahead alone. Within a decade she sold out to Gillette for nearly $50 million – plus royalties.

Those of us who remember the days of typewriting can thank Nesmith for making it possible to finish all those college papers without having to retype the whole page. Nesmith changed how business documents were created. It’s a classic story with a modern connection.”

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley p.243-244

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