Jan 16 ’10

History of Duquesne Brewery clock faces

The AT&T clock looms large to this day over the South Side. Last year, it was the Equitable Gas clock; before that, it hawked among other things Iron City, WTAE-TV, and Stroh’s. However, the building the clock is on used to itself be a brewery. So, what’s the story?

In 1933, Coca-Cola was making a national marketing push. The Atlanta, Georgia company was contracting with local clockmaker Audichron to create large outdoor billboards which included clocks. Audichron, a company which later made a name for itself with call-in spoken time services, specialized in outdoor clocks until they found their next niche. The Pittsburgh clock, after being shipped to Pittsburgh by rail for installation, had the largest face of any single face clock in the world. []

After being delivered to Pittsburgh, the Coca Cola clock was installed on a massive billboard on the hillside below what is now McArdle Roadway, facing Downtown []. In the intervening years, the billboard was changed to shill for Ballantine [attached], Carling, and Schlitz [] beers.

The Duquesne Brewing Company was founded in 1899. The company, based on the South Side, became part of Independent Brewing of Pittsburgh before prohibition put an end to brewing. Upon repeal, the brewery was reactivated under the original Duquesne Brewing charter. Plants in Stowe and Carnegie supplemented production from the original 1899 plant, a building which survives as the Brew House Association.

In 1950, riding high, the company completed and dedicated a new brewery across Mary Street from the original flagship site. The building, with a curved face of glass windows facing the railroad line which swung from Mary Street onto South 21st, was built on the site of the old D.O. Cunningham Glass bottle plant

The plant, claimed to be the most modern brewery in the world, included among other things a television studio, allowing Duquesne to produce in-house programs they sponsored. Capacity was sufficient to produce more than 2 million barrels of beer a year, and the company reached into the top 10 beer producers in the country. The master plan for the brewery included several more new buildings as well as a large DUQUESNE sign facing all directions on the tower of the then-new building.

By 1960, consumption, and thus production, had declined, and the Carnegie and McKees Rocks plants had been closed. In an effort to bolster their position, the company purchased the large clock, and it was moved to the tower of the 1950 brewery building. The clock suggested to viewers that they “Have a Duke”. []

After a buyout attempt by Pittsburgh Brewing in 1965 was foiled by anti-trust concerns, a stock battle ensued, and existing management was ousted in favor of a new group. The new owners switched advertising companies, started selling in new venues and attempted other strategies to grow market share, but in the end the flagship brewery was closed and the brand, by then popular in Cleveland, ended up being brewed under contract there for a few years before going extinct.

The brewery buildings were not abandoned; Eugene Litman purchased them, eventually leasing the older building to a group of artists. The newer building was retained, later being sold to the Milan family. The clock first gained a Stroh’s logo, [] before later getting a face touting WTAE. John Cigna once hung for it in a KDKA radio commercial, and most recently it plugged Equitable Gas.

Now, nearly 80 years from its construction, the formerly-largest single face clock in the world soldiers on, pushing the services of a company which at the inception of the clock existed to sell telephone service. Today, AT&T exists to sell modern technology; however, the clock with massive laminated aluminum hands from another era is all too happy to continue to pitch their business, all the while conveying time just as it has all along.

guest blogger:
Derrick Brashear