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Charles W. Dahlinger

Historian, author, lawyer, politician

Charles W. Dahlinger was a prominent historian, lawyer and politician in Allegheny and Pittsburgh in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was the son of German immigrants, Charles Dahlinger and Margaret Strauch, who were married in Pittsburgh in August of 1853, shortly after their respective arrivals in the United States. They lived in Allegheny, now the North Side of Pittsburgh, where Charles worked at various times as a furniture maker, railroad worker, coffin maker, and embalmer. Charles was naturalized in 1856, and in February of 1858, Margaret gave birth to a son, Charles William Dahlinger.

There is little material documenting the early life of Charles William Dahlinger. He was an avid reader as a child, and in his early twenties he began writing histories and articles about the history of Pittsburgh. He left school at a young age to work as a messenger for the Workingman Savings Bank, eventually working up to the position of cashier. In 1884, he took an extended tour of the southern United States, and his writing interests expanded to include broader subjects in American history. He passed the Pennsylvania Bar exam, and began practicing law in 1887. He was elected to the Common Council of Allegheny City in the same year.

In the late 1880s, Dahlinger became involved in the organization and the construction of the Carnegie Library of Allegheny City. Andrew Carnegie had, by this time, donated over three million dollars toward the construction of various American libraries and music halls. After an 1881 donation of half a million dollars for the construction of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the city of Allegheny asked Carnegie for a similar donation. Carnegie contributed three hundred thousand dollars, and on February 13, 1890, President William Henry Harrison presided over the grand opening of the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny. The library had the support of prominent Pittsburgh citizens, including Henry Phipps. Dahlinger served as the library's first chairman, and worked closely with William Stevenson, a friend and the first librarian of the Carnegie Library of Allegheny. Dahlinger also took part in the process of an 1899 addition to the library, made possible through another donation by Carnegie.

Dahlinger began working with the Allegheny Trust Company and the Ridgeview Land Company at the turn of the twentieth century. He became legal advisor and vice president of the Allegheny Trust in 1901. A life-long Republican, he served as a Presidential Elector to Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. In 1915 he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Washington and Jefferson College (Washington County, Pa.). He became president of Allegheny Trust Company in 1925, and later served as the chairman of the board in 1934. Dahlinger served as a trustee of Washington Jefferson College, president of the Allegheny Lyceum, a literary society, and invested in the Columbia Plate Glass Company. He was also a member of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, serving as both director, from 1930 to 1932, and as a trustee from 1932 until his death in December of 1935.

“Guide to the Papers of Charles William Dahlinger, 1849-1935, MSS 172, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center”


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