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Walter S. Mack; Built Pepsi-Cola Into One of Top Soft-Drink Firms

March 19, 1990|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

NEW YORK — Walter S. Mack, who used a court fight and an incessant radio jingle to transform the little-known Pepsi-Cola Co. into one of the nation's two largest-selling soft-drink makers, died Sunday at age 94.

He died in his sleep at his home here where he had been recuperating from pneumonia and heart disease, said his son, Walter S. Mack Jr.

Mack became Pepsi's president in 1938, when the company was spun off from a New York candy maker, Loft's Inc. At that time, Pepsi was selling a syrup developed by a North Carolina druggist at the turn of the century.

But Pepsi made little headway against Coca-Cola until Mack took away Coke's control of the name "cola" in a historic court battle. At the advent of World War II, Pepsi had become an international giant second only to Coca-Cola in sales. In years to come the two soft-drink giants would vie for the No. 1 spot in the soft-drink market.

It was during the Depression that Mack became involved in turning around troubled but promising companies.

While trying to save the Loft's candy chain, he found its Pepsi syrup more interesting.

He also bought what he called "the first commercial jingle ever heard on the air," which played in 60-second and 30-second network spots:

"Pepsi-Cola hits the spot,

"Twelve full ounces, that's a lot,

"Twice as much for a nickel too,

"Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you."

Mack later said: "Today, when I listen to some of the jingles . . . pouring forth, I'm not so sure that I started such a good thing."

After stepping down as Pepsi president in 1951, Mack ran the Nedick's hot dog chain and later headed several other companies. He came out of retirement in his 80s to set up King-Cola Corp., which went bankrupt in 1981 because it couldn't put together an efficient bottler network.

Mack graduated from Harvard in 1917 and volunteered for service in World War I. He later won a commission to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

After the war, Mack said he plunged into the investment business and Republican politics "to get out and away from my family."

He started the Young Republican Club in New York City, became president of the Silk Stocking Club in Manhattan and was invited to the White House by Calvin Coolidge.

He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate from Manhattan in 1932 and worked on Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's mayoral campaigns. He also served as chairman of the New York County Republican Committee.

As he aged, he became a vocal advocate for older workers.

"Work keeps me alive, as it does a great many people," he testified before the House Select Committee on Aging in 1981.

Mack remained active until about two years ago, his son said.

"As he aged he came more to believe that you do your best and keep trying and if things don't work out you keep going," he said. "That's probably what kept him young."

Mack's wife, Ruth, died in 1986.

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