Kline Iron & Steel Company (originally Kline Iron & Metal Company) opened its doors in Columbia, South Carolina on February 23, 1923. The Kline brothers’ story, however, begins earlier.
Philip and Myer Kline emigrated from Linkuva, Lithuania, arriving in Baltimore, Maryland in 1904 and 1905 respectively, by way of Germany and South Africa. They initially settled in Frostburg, Maryland. Myer Kline’s son, Sol, describes their impetus for leaving: “…because of pogroms….that’s when on Friday and Saturday nights the Russian Kӓsites would come through the village like you see in Fiddler on the Roof and see how many Jews they could kill on the weekends. [Myer’s] father [Morris] and brother Philip….fled from Linkuva, Lithuania, and there were three countries that were taking Jews: South Africa, Cuba and the United States. And they fled and got to Bremerhaven, Germany, which was where various Jewish agencies were trying to save Jews from Eastern Europe.”
A year after Philip arrived, his brother Myer followed; both appear to have been about fifteen years old when they arrived in Frostburg, Maryland. In the next years they worked and moved many times in an effort to make a living. According to WWI draft registration cards, in 1917 Myer Kline, born February 20, 1890 was living in Greensboro, North Carolina. Philip Kline, born July 6, 1888, resided in Roanoke, Virginia. Both brothers listed their occupations as junk dealers.
In the 1920 United States Federal Census both are living in Charlotte, North Carolina and working in the leather supply industry, Philip as a machinist and Myer as a merchant. Their mother, Sophie, resides in Philip’s household and both brothers have married and started families.
In the next year or so Myer, through his travels to South Carolina for business, realized an opportunity to buy Columbia Junk Company and did so. On February 23, 1923, Philip and Myer establish the Kline Iron & Metal Company.
Originally a scrap business, they began buying structural steel in 1931 and fabricating steel in 1936. Bernard Kline, Philip’s son, joined the business in 1935 and oversaw that division.
In the early 1940s the company contributed to the WWII war effort by building bulkheads for landing crafts being assembled at the Charleston Naval Shipyard. The company later received an excellence award from the Navy for that work.
In 1948 Bernard Kline completed the building of his family home on South Edisto Avenue. It remained the family home until 2012, when Sarah Kline, Bernard’s wife, passed away at age 96. B.H. Kline traveled extensively, as captured in the photographs below.
As Philip’s son Bernard became deeply involved in the family business, so did Myer’s three sons Morris, Sol, and Harold Kline. Below are photographs of Morris, Sol, and Harold with their wives at a company event in the early 1980s.
The company built its first tower in 1954, the first of a long list of accomplishments in the tower industry, as television and radio broadcasting expanded. Some of the more notable towers built were Sutro in San Francisco, California, the antenna array atop the World Trade Center in New York (1974), the antenna tower atop the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois (1981) and the South of the Border sombrero in Dillon, South Carolina.
Kline Iron & Metal incorporated in 1956 and changed its name to Kline Iron & Steel Company.
In 1963 Kline Iron and Steel Company built the tallest structure in the world at that time (2,063 feet tall), a television tower (KTHI-TV) in Fargo, North Dakota, as noted in the 10th Edition of the Guinness Book of World Records under the category: Major Civil Engineering Structures. Kline designed and erected the structure, and fabricated the steel.
Through a friendship between Kline associate Dick Kemp and Mr. Gussie Busch of Anheuser-Busch, based on their mutual interest in model train collecting, in 1966 Kline began a 20-year business relationship with the beer company, building twenty-two breweries around the country. That meant an excess of 100,000 tons of steel fabricated on an ongoing basis. A change in the U.S. tax code in the mid-1980s slowed brewery expansion.
In 1972, Kline supplied the antenna array for the World Trade Center. The Coating division began in 1974, providing a variety of high quality steel coating applications.
1981 Jerry Kline became president of the company, and in 1984 bought out other family members to become sole owner. Jerry’s three cousins, Morris, Harold and Sol, sons of founding partner Myer Kline, had each played significant roles in the company’s history.
All three of Jerry’s children, Jay, Amy, and David, worked with the company at various times from the 1990s through 2003. Jay, working in the Towers division, was most involved.
The National Association of Broadcasters was an organization for which Kline associates in the Towers division were deeply involved. The photograph below was taken at the 1992 annual conference.
1997 Omni America acquired 1/3 of Kline Iron & Steel Company.
For Jerry’s birthday in 1998, associates of Kline Iron & Steel presented him with this signed plaque:
Kline began construction of their heaviest tower ever, with 12″ diameter legs, in 1999. It is the same year Jerry Kline was awarded Manufacturing Industrial Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, a global competition recognizing entrepreneurship in a variety of industries.
In 2000 American Tower acquired the other 2/3 of Kline. The impetus for the sale was accelerated by the advent of online bidding on projects, the election of President George W. Bush, who sponsored free trade, and the demand for HDTV capacity.