Through his ownership of the Chicago Black Hawks, Bill Wirtz solidified the team's position in the NHL and contributed to the development of the league as a whole. He also helped improve the performance of the US Olympic squad and supported the game at the grass roots level in the Midwest.
The Chicago native grew up in a hockey environment. His father, Arthur Wirtz, was part of the consortium that purchased the Detroit NHL franchise in 1933 and turned it into a league power. After graduating from Brown University in 1950, Bill Wirtz became involved in the family real estate and financial business before joining the Chicago Black Hawks executive when his father and James D. Norris bought the team in 1952. The Hawks were stagnating in the league and badly needed an infusion of energy. The younger Wirtz became the club's vice-president and helped build the team into one of the elite outfits in the NHL.
Wirtz took over most of the hockey decisions from his father and brought about a resurgence in the team's fortunes. Future stars such Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, and experienced netminder Glenn Hall were brought in to lead the club out of its nearly two-decade-long doldrums. In 1961, the Hawks won their first Stanley Cup in 23 years and their third in team history.
Wirtz became club president in 1966, the same year Chicago won its first ever regular season title. He embraced the notion of league expansion and became a major influence on the NHL board of governors. He served two terms as chairman of the board of governors, first in the early 1970s and again in the late 1980s.
In May 1972, Wirtz was announced as the mediator in the negotiations between Hockey Canada and the NHL regarding the upcoming Summit Series between Canada and the USSR. The Chicago executive was responsible for establishing mutually acceptable arrangements between the two associations with respect to the players' and coaches' needs, the game dates and the radio and television broadcasts. Wirtz later participated on the U.S. Olympic Committee when they won the gold medal at Lake Placid in 1980 and at the 1984 Sarajevo games.
While sitting on the NHL board of directors or functioning as chairman, Wirtz made notable contributions to the league's improvement. His experience, patience and tenacity helped bring about the first collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players Association. In 1994 he oversaw the emotional transition from the old Chicago Stadium, to the United Center. The former had been in the family since 1936, even before they owned the team. During the 1990's the Black Hawks hosted the final games of the Illinois Amateur High School Association championship.
Wirtz's immense contribution to the growth of hockey in the United States was recognized when he won the Lester Patrick Award in 1978. He was also inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985, nine years after taking his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.