PRITZKER , U.S. family in business and philanthropy. One of the world's wealthiest and most philanthropic families, the Pritzker clan was moving into its fifth generation in the early years of the 21st century with fortunes made in hotels, Levitz Furniture, Ticketmaster, gambling casinos in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, Nev., and Atlantic City, n.j., an airline, magazines, and a variety of other businesses. Its charitable contributions in Chicago are legendary, with virtually every cultural and educational institution a beneficiary of family largesse. In addition, family members have served on the boards of every major institution in Chicago.
nicholas pritzker (1871–1957), from a poor family, settled in Chicago in 1881, leaving a ghetto near Kiev, Ukraine. He taught himself English by reading the Chicago Tribune with the aid of an English-German and a German-Russian dictionary. After selling newspapers on streetcorners, he became a tailor's assistant and then a licensed pharmacist. At the age of 30, he became a lawyer after studying at night. He started the family's first business ventures after opening his law practice in 1902. His three sons, abram nicholas (1896–1986), harry (1893–1957), and jack (1904–1979), also became lawyers. Abram, who was born in Chicago, was a 1920 graduate of Harvard Law School. Jack joined their father's firm, Pritzker & Pritzker, but Abram and Jack left in 1936 to try their hand in commerce. Abram is credited with moving the family into real estate. The Pritzkers built the worldwide chain of Hyatt hotels to 140 from scratch after buying the Hyatt House in Los Angeles in 1957.
Jack's son, nicholas (1945– ), was a lawyer in Chicago and led the development side of Hyatt and the family's push into gambling. He was a major supporter of environmental causes.
Abram had three sons, donald (1932–1972), robert (1926– ), and jay (1922–1999). Donald led the early expansion of Hyatt. He died of a heart attack at the age of 39. Robert was an engineer who specialized in turning around underperforming companies. With Jay, Robert built the Marmon Group into a $5 billion conglomerate that over the years had interests in dozens of businesses. Jay, a lawyer and accountant, began buying small companies when he was 29, first timber mills, then a small metal-goods company. But he was best known for deciding that an airport was a good place to site a hotel. He bought his first, named for its owner, Hyatt von Dehn, providing deluxe surroundings for business travelers. After building a second Hyatt hotel near San Francisco International Airport, the brothers went on to develop properties near airports around the United States and internationally. There were more than 200 hotels in the first years of the 21st century. Jay was a trustee of the University of Chicago and endowed the Pritzker Architectural Prize. He also founded the Nancy Friend Pritzker Laboratory at Stanford University for the study of clinical depression. It was named for his daughter, who committed suicide in 1972 at the age of 24. Jay had four other children, thomas (1950– ), who took over and was running the $15 billion empire in 2005, john (1953– ), who runs Geolo, a private equity fund that invests in entertainment, hospitality, and retailing, daniel (1959– ), a song-writer and member of a rock-soul band, and gigi (1962– ), co-owner of a film production company. She produced the movie The Wedding Singer.
Robert, an engineer, left Marmon, which had 266 companies and subsidiaries under its umbrella, in 2002. Robert had several children by two marriages. james (1950– ) lives in Chicago. He retired from the Illinois National Guard and runs the Pritzker Military Library. He supported conservative political causes and research in Antarctica. linda (1953– ) is a Jungian therapist and political activist and contributes to Buddhist causes. She lives in Montana. karen (1958– ), who lives in Connecticut, is a major supporter of education causes, including literacy in schools. She sponsors two websites that provide books to children.
Donald had three children: penny (1959– ), the first female family member to take a leadership position in the business; anthony (1961– ), who headed a high-tech and manufacturing private equity firm with his brother "J.B." or jay robert (1965– ), who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in a 1998 Illinois Congressional primary and heads a private equity firm, Pritzker Group llc with Anthony. Penny, a fourth-generation Pritzker who earned her law and M.B.A. degrees simultaneously at Stanford University, carved out a leading role in the family's business empire. She oversaw a nationwide network of upscale retirement communities, multi-family housing developments, and office park complexes. She served as chairman of the Superior Bank from 1989 to 1994, but the savings and loan institution collapsed. Nevertheless, she was responsible for real-estate operations in at least 11 states, ranging from several thousand apartment units and modest commercial developments to master-planned communities.
Thomas, a fifth-generation Pritzker, was a board member of Royal Caribbean Cruises, where the family and partners held a 25 percent stake. He made a side career out of his interest in Asia. He was chairman of the Art Institute of Chicago's committee on Asian art and photographed and wrote about eighth-century Nepalese art.
In the early part of the 21st century, after the death of Jay in 1999, and according to his wishes, the Pritzker empire was overseen by Penny, her cousin Thomas, and Nicholas, their first cousin once removed. The family was always notoriously secretive about its activities, its trusts funds, many of them overseas, its complicated and intricate partnerships and business arrangements. It rarely talked about successes or failures. However, in 2001 the Pritzker heirs decided to break up the family fortune into 11 shares worth an estimated $1.4 billion each. That agreement remained a secret until Liesel Pritzker, Robert's daughter from his second marriage, filed a lawsuit in 2002 alleging that her trust funds had been emptied of nearly $1 billion. Her brother, Matthew, later joined the suit. The dispute was quietly settled in 2005, with Liesel and Matthew relinquishing their claim on family assets in exchange for $500 million each. That allowed the 11 heirs to proceed with the family agreement to divide the Pritzker empire among themselves.
The Pritzker Architecture Prize has been given annually since 1979 to a living architect. Largely modeled on the Nobel Prize, it is the premier architectural award in the United States. The prize is awarded by the Hyatt Foundation and the winner, who receives $100,000, is selected by members of the Pritzker family.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]