Industry Icons: Oscar Tschirky

Oscar TschirkyThere is probably no greater example of the best that American hotel service can provide than the man known as “Oscar of the Waldorf”.

Serving as the maître d’hôtel at the two Waldorf=Astorias from 1893 through to 1943, he is credited with inventing the Waldorf Salad, Veal Oscar and Eggs Benedict (although due to differing accounts Eggs Benedict remains unconfirmed). Oscar oversaw the introduction of room service to American hotels at the second Waldorf=Astoria, and he became a cultural icon of hotel service.

His full name was Oscar Tschirky, but as he explained: “Whenever people used to address me, they invariably stumbled in front of that last name. People would stammer over it and then, exhausted, just gasp ‘Oscar’.”

He was born in Switzerland and immigrated to America during the first great wave of migration of the late 1800s. In 1893, he was poached by George Boldt to become the maître d’hôtel of the Waldorf=Astoria. Oscar provided the fastidious Boldt with just one reference: a ten-page long testimonial, containing the signatures of the most prominent New Yorkers of the day. Not yet 30, Oscar soon established himself as one of the most popular figures about town. His tips on service and cooking often made headline news.

Oscar became a superstar. So popular was he in the eyes of the public that when Lucius Boomer was overseeing the construction of the new Waldorf=Astoria, Oscar was sent on a publicity tour of the country. He provided the perfect personal link between the old hotel and the new.

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Oscar retired from the Waldorf=Astoria in 1943, just seven years before his death in 1950. The library of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration houses Oscar’s amazing personal collection of some 10,000 menus, papers and memorabilia from America and all over the world. The collection serves as an incredible testament to history of dining for the 50 years that the wonderful Oscar held court at the Waldorf=Astoria.

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