P. O. Box 4015 Arsenal Station
Pittsburgh, PA 15201-0015

Charles H. Kline (1870-1933)

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist Cy Hungerford really went after “King Charles” as he would dub him. Notice that the overburdened horse he’s riding has a rug draped over the saddle

Ten Pittsburgh mayors have trod upon a Persian rug purchased in 1931 for $1,350 and which some have claimed as the best dollar for dollar investment the city ever made.  The 18 by 20 foot rug was purchased by Mayor Charles Kline, who once resided at 299 Fisk Street in Lawrenceville, and it was this same rug that helped lead to his downfall.

Born on Christmas Day, 1870, in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Charles Howard Kline was a graduate of the law school of the University of Pennsylvania and gradually became a political lieutenant in the old Seventeenth Ward (now the Ninth Ward) in Lawrenceville where Max G. Leslie held sway.  In 1904 he was elected to the State House of Representatives, and later served as a state senator, judge, and mayor, as well as the chairman of the Republican County Committee and Republican City Committee.

Mayor Kline loved the ceremonies that went along with being mayor. Here he sports a 10-gallon cowboy hat supplied by movie star Tom Mix (who was born in Pennsylvania).

After Mayor William Magee was persuaded not to run for a second term, the local Republican organization united in an effort to run Charles Kline for the position with the understanding that Kline would retain about 25 of Mayor Magee’s men in responsible city government positions or assign them to other places carrying equal renumeration.  With the Republicans united, Kline had to go only through the motions of a campaign.  In the general election, Kline polled 69,831 votes; while W. L. Smith, a North Side High School principal who ran on the Non-Partisan and Prohibition tickets, carried 15,210 votes; and the Democratic candidate, Carman Johnson, a public school instructor, received 4,342 votes.

It has been said that Max Leslie, Senator and State Majority Leader, a powerful political figure in the Republican organization (who resided at 243 Fisk Street), was responsible for the engineering of the Republican unification and the concept was whole-heartedly supported by the Mellons.  The whole story of the rift between Leslie and Kline will never be known, but it was obvious that Max Leslie did not approve of many members of the Kline administration.  Had Leslie not been in California recuperating from a severe illness at the time of the appointments, he probably would have been in a position to exert greater influence.  The breach steadily widened between Kline and Leslie until Leslie became the most severe of all of Kline’s critics.

Soon after his administration began to function, Kline developed his own political machine.  Among his most controversial moves was the consolidating of the power of the Republican ward chairmen, who were supreme in recommending men for city jobs and for the bestowal of all administration favors.

Mayor Kline poses with members of the Blackfeet Nation at the City County Building on September 15, 1927. These Native Americans were part of a publicity tour for the coming 100th anniversary of the B & O Railroad.

It appears that Kline’s administration was subject to one attack after another, and even his friends questioned his ability to win a renomination for mayor in 1929.  Andrew Mellon tried to play the peacemaker and attempted to convince Kline to abandon his ambitious plan to succeed himself.  The bid by Mellon was in vain. 

Opposition to Mayor Kline was split with Council President James F. Malone, backed by Commissioner Babcock, and Judge Richard W. Martin both seeking the nomination.  Had the opposition backed one candidate, they would have beaten Kline by 21,000 votes; but, as a result of the division, Charles Kline carried 74,617 votes to Martin’s 48,325 and Malone’s 47,343.

There can be no doubt that Kline was a powerful influence in the city.  For with his support, Governor Pinchot carried the city by 38,000 votes, even though he had lost the primary by 6,000 votes.  It was through Mayor Kline’s personal efforts that legislation was passed in Harrisburg for two additional judges of the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County.

The downfall of Mayor Kline came when he and Bertram L. Succop, a former city supplies director, were charged with “malfeasance in office for irregularities in the letting of city supplies contracts.”  Kline had secretly investigated Succop’s activities and as a result dismissed him, but this was not sufficient to appease the League of Women Voters, Citizens Committee, and the unorganized Independents.  Tried in May 1932, in Butler, both were found guilty, but the trial judge set aside the verdict as applying to Kline on the grounds that it was “inconsistent.”  The verdict was appealed, and the Superior Court reversed the trial judge’s decision.  Kline was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $5,000.  Succop served one year in prison.  Kline paid the fine but his sentence was suspended for health reasons.  Kline handed in his resignation on March 31, 1933, as part of the settlement to avoid the jail sentence.

Part of Mayor Kline’s problem stemmed from the purchase of the rug mentioned earlier, which was bought without the soliciting of competitive bids.

This screen capture shows the Heinz History Center’s CEO Andy Masich explaining to KDKA reporter David Highfield the story behind the historic rug. It was Mayor Sophie Masloff’s office who turned the rug over to the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society in 1992. You can see the original broadcast here…

Charles Kline passed away at 5:35 A.M. on July 22, 1933, at St. Francis Hospital where he had been taken after suffering a paralytic stroke at the home of his brother-in-law, Dr. S. H. Johnson, of 316 Gross Street.