PITTSBURGH — The “Prince of Pilseners” was incorporated on April 4, 1899, with Henry Miller, a former furniture salesman, as its president. It was an outgrowth of an earlier trust, called the Pittsburgh Brewing Company, that was formed by a group of smaller breweries.
Duquesne Brewing Company was started to modernize brewing, and to compete against the former trust. The name of the company was chosen to honor Marquis Duquesne, though earlier beer labels confusingly depicted the Fort Pitt blockhouse with the words “Fort Duquesne” underneath it.
A brewery was built on the South Side Flats at 21st and Mary Streets. The company worked on the vanguard of the technology available at the time, from mechanical refrigeration to its electric delivery truck, which was in stark contrast to the big brewery wagons pulled by huge draft horses more typical of the day.
Originally the company only produced beer by the barrel, but in 1901 they became one of the first breweries to pasteurize bottled beer.
Duquesne’s premium lager, called Silver Top, propelled the company into regional sales.
In 1905, Duquesne Brewing merged with 16 other breweries and was renamed the Independent Brewing Company of Pittsburgh.
Prohibition in 1920 decimated the company and it, like many breweries, was forced to close.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Duquesne Brewing Company was reformed and became the largest of the eight Pittsburgh brewers to survive. Their namesake beer, called “Duke,” was relabeled with the “Prince of Pilsener” look still in use today, after the original mascot was deemed too controversial for its Germanic style prior to World War Two.
The plant on the South Side Flats expanded in 1950 with a new facility across the street from the original brewery. The new building was state-of-the-art at the time, and in 1961 it also gained the other famous clock of Pittsburgh; a clock much larger than the clock at the downtown Kaufmann’s department store.
The 60-foot-diameter clock face is nearly twice as large as the one in London’s Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben, and was the largest single-face clock in the world when it was first erected on Mount Washington’s hillside in 1933, advertising Coca-Cola. The hour hand is 25 feet long and the minute hand is 35 feet long. Incredibly, the 2,390 pound mechanism used to move the hands is controlled by a timing mechanism that only weighs eight ounces.
The clock has had numerous company names splashed across its billboard face over the years, but after it was installed on the Duquesne Brewing Company’s building, they painted their “Have a Duke” slogan on it.
The company continued to grow despite intense competition, until 1965. Their rival, Pittsburgh Brewing Company (Iron City Beer), attempted to purchase Duquesne Brewing, and the resulting financial fallout ruined the company and eventually led to its closure in 1972.
The brand lived on, for a time, under the ownership of the C. Schmidt & Sons Brewing Company of Philadelphia, which brewed the beer in Cleveland. This didn’t sit well with Pittsburghers and sales nosedived after former Allegheny County commissioner Thomas Foerster called for a boycott.
In 2008, a Pittsburgh attorney, Mark J. Dudash and his wife, Maria, incorporated the company and began brewing Duquesne Pilsener under an agreement with the City Brewing Company at the Latrobe Brewing Plant, where Rolling Rock Beer had previously been made. In 2013, the company added a light beer, called Duquesne LT.
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