Edward Nairne’s Big Mistake Now Helps You Get Rid of Your Own Big Mistakes

September 29, 2022

You know how you can spot all your typos and mistakes only after you print your document? Well, that’s been a problem long before the introduction of computers and printers. Ever since man first put pencil, ink, or paint to paper, parchment, or stone, mistakes were made, leaving folks looking for a way to fix their errors. 

A colorized photo of a schoolgirl in 1970s London. (Photo by Albert Foster/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

There were, prior to the 1770s, strange and mostly ineffective ways to erase the mistakes one made when writing on paper. But as we will see in these colorized photos, it was a mistake by one man, Edward Nairne, that led to the invention of the rubber eraser, the tool we have all used to undo our own mistakes. 

Who Was Edward Nairne?

Edward Nairne dabbled in electrical inventions, but his invention of the rubber eraser was far simpler. (wikipedia)

Edward Nairne was born in England in 1726. Although he apprenticed to be an optician, he was also an inventor who tinkered around to make scientific instruments that were much more complex and sophisticated than the humble eraser. For example, using a glass tube and a register plate, he invented a working marine barometer that was used by explorer James Cook on his second South Pacific journey.

Nairne also patented an electrostatic generator that could supply either negative or positive electrical currents. This device was billed as a medical instrument and Nairne claimed the electrical current could aid in treating disorders like toothaches, bloodshot eyes, and epilepsy. Nairne made a telescope and a set of magnets that he sent to his pal, Benjamin Franklin in America in 1758. He was a member of the Royal Society of London and the American Philosophical Society. And he was also, apparently, a man who made numerous mistakes on paper.

Removing Ink and Graphite

There were methods for erasing words or drawings on writing material in the past. Wax was used to remove charcoal drawings and lead writing on paper. For documents written on parchment or papyrus, a piece of rough sandstone or pumice could sand off the error. The Japanese people discovered that ink could be soaked up from paper by blotting the mistake with a piece of bread. And then one could literally eat their mistakes.