Martin Keyes was born on February 19, 1850 in Lempster, New Hampshire. He showed an early aptitude for invention by designing a new type of fishing reel as well as a line of furniture. He worked with his brother to continue the family business, but became more interested in what could be done with wood.
This led him to join the Indurated Fiber Company of North Gorham, Maine that manufactured tubs, pails and pressed pulp wares. As Superintendent of Indurated, he obtained a number of patents providing protection for some of the company products.
Following an observation that workmen used pieces of veneer for plates, Keyes conceived the idea for developing plates of molded pulp. He was eventually able to develop and patent a machine capable of making pulp molded pie plates. Following some litigation to secure patent protection, Keyes was able to identify a pulp supplier and obtain financial backing to build a small mill in Shawmut, Maine. The first shipment of pie plates occurred in the summer of 1904, but the plant closed for a period in early 1905. Although the pie plates were superior to the competition, they were more expensive and not competitive.
After implementing significant price reduction steps and investing additional personal finances, Keyes was able to restart production. Popularity of the pie plates increased significantly as a result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake which created a market for disposable dishes.
By 1908, Keyes Fiber had built a new mill in Waterville, Maine and had expanded the product line to include butter dishes and a “Picnic Package” that included different size plates. In 1911, Keyes convinced his son-in-law, Dr. George Averill to join the company. He later succeeded Keyes as head of the company and the popularity of Keyes products has continued. Keyes Fiber also expanded the product line to include rough, as well as smooth, molded pulp products for both the commercial and consumer markets.
Today, Keyes Fiber is part of Hutamaki, Waterville, Maine, and they continue to produce a variety of pulp-molded products including the well-known Chinet® items.
Martin Keyes died on November 18, 1914 in Fairfield, Maine.