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Clement Melville Keys (1876–1952) was a financier involved in the establishment of many aviation companies including Curtiss-Wright, China National Aviation Corporation, North American Aviation and TWA. He has been called "the father of commercial aviation in America."[1]

Keys was born in the small town of Chatsworth, Ontario, Canada and attended the University of Toronto and taught classics there before becoming a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in 1901 where he became railroad editor, then moving on to become the financial editor of the monthly journal World's Work. He formed an investment counseling firm C.M. Keys & Co. in 1911.

In 1916 he became an unpaid vice president for Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company and assumed controlling interest of the financially troubled company in 1920. The company merged with Wright Aeronautical in 1929 to form Curtiss-Wright and he was the new company's president.

In 1924 Keys invested $10,000,000 in capital to fund National Air Transport with Paul Henderson, the former Assistant Postmaster General.[2]

In June 1929, Keys personally bought all shares of Pitcairn Aviation for 2.5 million dollars, and resold them two weeks later to North American Aviation, which was renamed to Eastern Air Transport, and finally Eastern Airlines.[3] Another venture, Transcontinental Air Transport eventually merged with Western Air Explress to form Trans World Airlines (TWA).

In 1928 Keys set up North American Aviation as a holding company for shares in a variety of aviation business. In 1929 he set up two personal holding companies Aviation Exploration Inc. and Intercontinent Aviation, through which he intended to set up joint ventures for creating airlines around the world. Aviation Exploration Inc was the original holding company for his interests in the China National Aviation Corporation and a share in Compañía de Aviación Faucett,while through Intercontinent Aviation he organized the creation of Compañía Nacional Cubana de Aviación Curtiss in September 1929.

In 1932 Keys withdrew from the aviation business citing health reasons but in fact the directors of North American Aviation had discovered that he had embezzled funds in order to settle personal debts incurred from his private speculation in stocks and shares. Nonetheless he maintained his investment business. In 1942 he went back to the aviation business establishing the C.M. Keys Aircraft Service Company and after World War II helped organize the Peruvian International Airways in 1947.[4]


  1. ^ Harry Bruno (1944) Wings over America, page 322, Halcyon Press
  2. ^ "Maddux Air Lines 1927-1929". AAHS Journal. Summer 1997.
  3. ^ F. Robert Van der Linden. Airlines and air mail: the post office and the birth of the commercial.
  4. ^ Aviation History - July '07 article on TAT

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