Solomon Klinordlinger Hit a Home Run in Pittsburgh

Beginning in Civil War times Solomon Klinordlinger for years had a profitable but modest wholesale liquor business. Then he named a whiskey brand after the emerging Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team and hit a merchandising home run. A man with a baseball bat in his hand, shown here, paved the way to Klinordlinger’s fame and fortune.

Like many successful whiskey men, Klinordlinger was an immigrant. He was born in the town of Bayern, Germany, in 1834, the third in a line of five Klinordlinger sons. At the age of about 15 he accompanied an older brother, Abraham, and two younger siblings, Nathan and Max, to the United States. The 1860 U.S. Census found Solomon and his brothers living together in Pittsburgh with Abraham’s wife and child. The older brother was listed as a merchant, probably involved in the liquor trade, and indicated significant assets to the census taker. Solomon apparently was working for Abraham.

By 1865 Solomon was financially secure enough himself to marry. His bride was Fanny Bierman, daughter of Feist Bierman, who like her husband had been born in Bayern, Germany. It is unlikely that they had been childhood sweethearts reunited after some absence because she was 10 years his junior. The new couple made their home in Pittsburgh. Over time their union produced four children, daughters Minnie, Laura and Carrie, and a son, Sidney.

S.K Billhed 1892

In time Klinordlinger struck out on his own. Although he claimed that S. Klinordlinger & Co. harked back to 1860, his firm first showed up in local business directories in 1872. His early location in Pittsburgh’s Diamond Square indicated strong financial underpinning to the enterprise. Diamond Square, a prestige location, was home to the city’s first courthouse and jail (1775) and its first newspaper (1786), and today is known as “Market Square.” The Klinordlinger firm billed itself as “Wholesale Dealers in Pure Rye Whiskey and Importers of Brandy, Gin and Wines.” Solomon also was a “rectifier,” blending and compounding whiskey obtained from other sources. As shown here, he initially sold his products in large ceramic jugs decorated in cobalt, many of them holding two or more gallons.

His business grew steadily over time. In a barely disguised ad, The Pittsburgh and Allegheny Illustrated Review of 1889 declared:

“Mr. Klinordlinger…has established a trade which today ranks him as one of the leading merchants in this line. His business is chiefly done in the States of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia, and is thoroughly canvassed by his salesmen. He carries a large stock of pure rye whiskies, free and in bond; also a large line of brandies, gins, wines, etc., which are of the best quality. Special attention is paid to mail orders, and the firm would be pleased to receive from any dealer a trial order, and are confident or their ability to convince him of their superiority in supplying his wants.”

Despite these indications of success, Klinordlinger was facing stiff competition. In the latter years of the 1880s, no fewer than 41 wholesale wine and liquor dealers were operating in the Pittsburgh area, including one run by his brother, Abraham. All were vying to sell to 70 retail dealers, and more important, 1,400 saloons. Those wholesalers all were seeking a healthy slice of the estimated $6,100,000 in annual Pittsburgh liquor sales — in today’s dollar, more than $91 million.

Meanwhile a home town baseball team named the “Alleghenies” had joined the newly formed National League and on pulling out of their earlier league had been denounced by the competition as “piratical.” Making sport of the accusation and obviously noting the alliteration with Pittsburgh, the team officially changed its name to “The Pirates.” At the same time the newly ordained Pirates were showing great baseball prowess and gaining huge fan support. Winning season followed winning season. The Pirates were the National League champions in 1901 and 1902 and played in the first World Series in 1903, losing to the Boston Americans. In 1909 the team won the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Klinordlinger was not just cheering the Pirates from the grandstand. With the wisdom of his namesake Solomon foresaw the potential for baseball in the Steel City. Capitalizing in on the team’s immense popularity he named a whiskey brand after them, calling it “Pirate Club Pure Rye Whiskey.” The picture on the label showed a strapping man with a large mustache and a baseball bat in hand with “Pittsburg” prominent on his chest. Sol merchandised the brand in three sizes of bottle, shown here, from a clear quart to an amber flask to a two ounce “nip.” He also issued shot glasses with an etched picture of the player. Those were given to favorite customers in retail stores and saloons that carried Pirate Club whiskey. About this same time he took on a partner and the name “Klinordlinger & Wallace” appeared on some items.

About 1892 the company was relocated from Diamond Square to 966-968 Liberty Avenue, its address for the remainder of its days. In addition to Pirate Club, Klinordlinger featured other proprietary brands such as “Happy Moments,” “Monongahela Golden Rye,” “Watch Dog” “Sensation” and “Toll Gate.” He never bother to trademark any of his brands, not even Pirate Club Rye, despite a local competitor issuing a “Pittsburgh Club” label. To favored customers the company issued shot glasses and an “American brilliant” back of the bar bottle with the owners named etched in.

The 1900 Census found Solomon, age 65, living at 1336 Pennsylvania Avenue in Pittsburgh. With him were his wife Fanny and their daughter Carrie with her husband Henry Weiskoff and a granddaughter. Also part of the family group was son Sidney Klinordlinger, unmarried at 28, who had been brought at an early age into the family business. As his father aged, the son increasingly took over the management of the firm. That may explain why the 1900 census listed Sidney’s occupation as “liquor merchant” and Solomon’s only as “agent-liquor.”

With Solomon’s full retirement about 1912 Sydney took full ownership of the liquor wholesale company and changed its name once again, this time to S. S. Klinordlinger. By 1917, however, the firm had shut down and Sidney was running a clothing store. The reason for terminating may have been that mail order markets had been curtailed by an act of Congress in 1913, and other nearby states like Ohio and West Virginia had gone “dry.”

The elder Klinordlingers aged gracefully, surrounded by their family and friends. Recorded by a local Jewish periodical, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1915 at the Almanac Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the presence of all their children and grandchildren. The renewal of their vows was blessed by Rabbi Arnhold, now 86 years old, who apparently had officiated at their original nuptials. By now Solomon and Fanny were living with another daughter and her husband in their Pittsburgh home.

West View Cemetery

Solomon died at the age of 84 in September 1918 and was buried in Pittsburgh’s West View Cemetery, shown here. He went to his grave knowing, as one latter day observer put it, that he had

“…brewed some of the finest spirits in Western Pennsylvania from the 1880s through the early 1900s…Perhaps tastiest to all Steel City sports folks…Pirate Club.”

In Pittsburgh Klinordlinger clearly had hit a home run.

(In 1916, Sidney, along with the Weiskopf and Kimbel families, established the Sterling Paper Box Company as the successor to the Union Paper Box Company which had been founded by the Edel family in 1904, whose daughter Fanny was married to Leon Falk, Sidney’s brother-in-law.)

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