Esso Hockey since 1936Legends Of Hockey
Esso Hockey since 1936
Wirtz, Arthur

Wirtz, Arthur

A notable business figure, Arthur Wirtz used his financial might to help solidify the standing of the NHL in the United States. His work in Detroit and Chicago revitalized two stagnating franchises and set the stage for their survival through subsequent eras in NHL history.

The Chicago native graduated from the University of Michigan in 1922. His initial interest was in sales but he eventually found real estate more stimulating and financially rewarding. He started the firm Wirtz, Hubert, and Little in 1927. During the Depression he became an expert in recognizing failing businesses, reducing their debt load and saving them from receivership.

In 1929, Wirtz formed a business union with James Norris Sr. Their first move was to purchase the financially-strapped Detroit Falcons. They renamed the club the Red Wings and made it a success on and off the ice. The successful duo set the stage for gaining control of another NHL team when they purchased the floundering Chicago Stadium in 1936. That same year they made more money by starting the Hollywood Ice Revue centred around star figure skater Sonja Heine.

In 1949, Wirtz and Norris formed the International Boxing Club which later promoted 47 of the 51 championship bouts held in the United States between 1955 and 1959. They bought controlling interest of the Chicago Black Hawks in 1952 and also owned the St. Louis Arena and most of the stock in New York's Madison Square Garden. After the elder Norris' death in 1954, the two families dissolved their partnership amicably. James D. Norris focused on the Detroit club while Wirtz and his son Bill gained sole possession of the Black Hawks.

The Wirtz family resurrected the Chicago team by improving its fortunes on the ice. Attendance at the Stadium soared and the team won its first Stanley Cup title since 1938 in 1961. A few years later Wirtz sold the St. Louis Arena to the Solomon family and campaigned on behalf of the successful expansion bid for that city.

Wirtz did his best to retire in the 1970s but still helped the occasional business in difficulty. In 1978 he took over as chairman of the bankrupt Chicago-Milwaukee Railroad. Active in a host of charitable activities throughout his career, Wirtz was named Chicagoan-of-the-Year in 1977. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971.

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