Intrepid pilot made financial backing available for aviation
The development of aeronautics in America as a big business proposition dates from May 21, 1927, when Col. Charles A Lindbergh completed his transatlantic flight to Paris. Technically, the flight of Lindbergh proved relatively little to the aeronautical engineers. To them as at first to the world, it was primarily a demonstration of the courage and skill of one great flyer.
The engineers already knew how to make airplanes like the Spirit of St Louis. They knew how to make air-cooled engines, and knew that this type of motive power was at the point of making a great development in flying for long distances.
They did not know until it happened that Lindbergh’s feat would solve a problem which was more serious to the industry than any technical situation. It was destined to solve the problem of finances and to make money, and big money, available for aviation development.
Magazine has boom
All kinds of things began to happen after the Lone Eagle spanned the Atlantic. A well-known aviation magazine, ably edited, highly regarded by flyers and manufacturers, had struggled for years to acquire a circulation of about 5,000 copies a month. In three months, it had 25,000 subscribers, without having put forth any special effort whatsoever.
In May, 1927, the capital stock of the company which made the engine of Lindbergh’s plane could be bought at less than $20 a share. The far-sighted investors who went out that day and bought this stock have realized ten, fifteen, or twenty times their investment, according to how they handled the stock thereafter.
The air mail, which was getting a little business at 10 cents a letter by dint of steady publicity and constant urge from the post office to use it, began to get tons of mail, and soon was able to cut the price to 5 cents a letter and get more tons. Small aviation companies with air mail contracts which had been wavering on the edge of bankruptcy became suddenly prosperous.
Lindbergh made America air minded, and since that air-mindedness has taken the form of widespread investments in the stock of aviation companies, it is natural that many people want to put their money in “Lindbergh’s company.”
It is quite clear to anyone who thinks about it that Lindbergh could at any time since that flight have launched any sort of aviation enterprise he cared to, and have sold $100,000,00 worth of stock in it. He has not chosen to do anything of the sort, nor has he allowed any stock to be directly sold on his name or reputation.
This is not because Colonel Lindbergh does not believe in aeronautical investments, but because he realizes how easily the power of his reputation could be abused, and knows that he cannot, in his own person, guarantee the financial success of any enterprise, even if he gave his whole time to its direction.
There remain uncertainties in the business of aeronautics, in so far as profits are concerned. Colonel Lindbergh has been too wise to set himself up as a financier simply because he is a master technician of the air.
Various commercial aviation industries have to some extent profited indirectly by Lindbergh’s connection with them in advisory work or by his use of their products, but this has been a strictly legitimate and decidedly indirect connection.
The flying colonel is adviser in technical matters for Transcontinental Air Transport, which is about to launch a combined rail and air service from coast to coast, but he has had nothing to do with its financing, and this company, with the backing of two great railroad systems and a leading New York banker, among others, has no great occasion to sell stock to the public, although its stock is listed on some of the exchanges.
Colonel Lindbergh made the first air mail flight to Panama, initiating the service of Pan-American Airways, a company which has since been bought by a subsidiary of the financial group which is the keenest rival to the syndicate that owns a block of Transcontinental Air Transport. His technical advice has therefore been shared, quite recently, by two leading investment groups in the aeronautical field, with doubtless some advantage to each. Neither, however, is in any sense a Lindbergh proposition, or pretends to be.
Aviation financing, since the Lindbergh boom in aeronautics came to its aid, has gone ahead so fast that there have developed, in addition to manufacturing and operating companies, a number of holding companies and a number of so-called aviation investment trusts.
The eastern group, of which CM Keys, a New York banker, is the guiding genius, holds stock through holding companies in airplane factories, air mail contract routes, airport operating firms, aviation schools, airplane selling organizations and air passenger lines. A western group, of which WE Boeing, the Seattle airplane manufacturer, is the central figure, but which has much New York money back of it, controls a similar group of aeronautical enterprises.
Just how complicated airplane financing has become through the various holding companies is evidenced by the recent purchase of Pan-American Airways by the Boeing group. As reported in Wall Street, the actual transaction was the purchase by United Aircraft and Transport corporation (the Boeing group) of 50,000 shares of stock in Aviation Corporation of the Americas.
The latter owns the stock of Pan-American Airways. United then also transferred to Aviation company of the Americas an option on Compania Transportes Aeroes Latino Americano, which is a Mexican air-mail operator. The amateur investor in airplane stocks needs to know his companies and his holding companies.
The so-called aviation investment trusts, which as a rule are corporations and not literally trust companies, are organized to buy aeronautical stocks in such a diversified manner as to give the small investor the benefit of diversified holdings. They do not aim to buy controlling shares of any company, as the holding companies do, but only to diversify the investment of their shareholders in a wide variety of aviation industries, a plan considered as making for safety of investment.
A number of these investment corporations have been organized in the last two years, and have found quite a lively market for their shares. If such a company makes known the list of its holdings the amateur investor can gather some idea of how his money is being placed in varied aeronautical industries. If the list of investments is not published the investor more or less goes in blind, on his faith in the organizers of the investment corporations.
America’s billion dollar investment in aviation stocks is steadily growing, as more and more people look forward to the day when flying commercially will return handsome profits. Meanwhile the manufacturing side of the industry is already profitable in many cases, and the values of aviation factory stocks have gone up steadily in concerns under successful management.
There are about seventy-five companies in the field today manufacturing airplanes, besides many which make parts. The majority are making planes to sell under the $4,000 class. So many new types are being designed and turned out that the Department of Commerce is hardly able to keep up with the work of inspecting and testing new models for which licenses are asked.
Prospective investors in this side of aeronautics have at least one test to apply to manufacturing companies, by inquiring whether their models are licensed. Until licensed they cannot be sold or operated commercially.
Colonel Lindbergh has made a thorough success of his task of making America air-minded in the stock market. He continues his quiet but effective career to make us air-minded in the air.