How a Rug Contributed to the Downfall of a Pittsburgh Mayor

Jan 20, 2015


The last time Pittsburgh elected a Republican mayor, Charles H. Kline, the World War had yet to be distinguished by a I or II, the stock market had yet to crash and machine politics remained the modus operandi of most large cities.

Kline took office in 1926 and was almost immediately embroiled in controversy for not following the rules of office, said Anne Madarasz, museum division director of the Heinz History Center.

“At the time if you were to purchase something for the city and it was over $500, you had to put it to bid,” she said.

Which is where Kline got into trouble.

In 1931, as the country was sliding into the depths of the Great Depression, Kline purchased an 18-by-20-foot Persian carpet for $1,350.

Perhaps the city could have overlooked his rule-flouting — it was, after all, a time of political rule-flouting — but spending nearly one and a half times the average annual pay of an unskilled worker on office furnishings grated on the public.

“This rug becomes the easy symbol for everything that’s wrong with the country and all the problems that it was having,” Madarasz said.

By June of that year, Kline and his director of supplies were indicted on 45 counts of illegal purchasing. The rug was not one of them. He was convicted on one count and resigned in 1933. Kline died a few months later.

Photo of Mayor Charles Kline on the first day of his trial, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's blog, The Digs. Photo credit: unknown. 

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