Hammer in 1982
|Died||December 10, 1990 (aged 92)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||Columbia University (B.A., 1919; M.D., 1921)|
|Known for||Occidental Petroleum|
Armand Hammer (May 21, 1898 – December 10, 1990) was an American business manager and owner, most closely associated with Occidental Petroleum, a company he ran from 1957 until his death, though he was known as well for his art collection, his philanthropy, and for his close ties to the Soviet Union.
Hammer's business interests around the world and his "citizen diplomacy" helped him cultivate a wide network of friends and associates.
He appeared frequently on television, commenting on international relations or agitating for research into a cure for cancer. As of 2016, he has been the subject of six biographies—in 1975 (Considine, authorized biography), 1985 (Bryson, coffee table book), Weinberg 1989, Blumay 1992, Epstein 1996, and Alef 2009; and two autobiographies (1932 and a best seller in 1987). His art collection and his philanthropic projects were the subject of numerous publications.
Hammer was born in New York City, to Jewish parents who immigrated from then Russian Empire, Rose (née Lipschitz) and Julius Hammer. His father came to the United States from Odessa in then Russian Empire (now Ukraine) in 1875, and settled in the Bronx, where he ran a general medical practice and five drugstores.
Hammer said that his father had named him after a character, Armand Duval, in La Dame aux Camélias, a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils. According to other sources, Hammer was named after the "arm and hammer" graphic symbol of the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP), in which his father had a leadership role. (After the Russian Revolution, a part of the SLP under Julius' leadership split off to become a founding element of the Communist Party USA.) Later in his life, Hammer confirmed that this was the origin of his given name.
In Hammer's final year of medical school, he was set to enter a residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, but events altered his plans.
Due to socialist and communist activities Hammer's father Julius had been put under federal surveillance. On July 5, 1919, federal agents witnessed Marie Oganesoff (the 33-year-old Russian wife of a former tsarist diplomat) enter Julius' medical office located in a wing of his Bronx home. Oganesoff "who had accumulated a life-threatening history of miscarriages, abortions, and poor health, was pregnant and wanted to terminate her pregnancy." The surgical procedure took place in the midst of a great flu epidemic. Six days after the abortion Oganesoff died of pneumonia. Four weeks after her death a Bronx County grand jury indicted Julius Hammer for first-degree manslaughter. The following summer a criminal prosecutor convinced a jury that Julius Hammer had let his patient "die like a dog" and that the claims that she had actually died from complications due to influenza were mere attempts to cover up his crime. In 1920 a judge sentenced Julius Hammer to three and a half years in Sing Sing prison.
While most historians (such as Beverly Gage and Nigel West) state that Julius had performed the abortion, an opposing position has been put forward by author Edward Jay Epstein. Epstein in his book Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer puts forward the claim that it was Armand Hammer rather than his father who performed the abortion and his father Julius assumed the blame. Epstein's claims come from interview comments made by Bettye Murphy who had been Armand's mistress. According to Murphy and Epstein's account the legal strategy was that Julius did not deny that an abortion had been performed, but insisted that it had been medically necessary and that a licensed doctor rather than a medical student would be more convincing in presenting that argument.
After Julius was imprisoned, he sent Armand Hammer to the Soviet Union to look after the affairs of his company Allied Drug and Chemical. Hammer would travel back and forth from the Soviet Union for the next 10 years.
When his father was sentenced to prison, Hammer and his brothers took Allied Drug, the family business, to new heights, reselling equipment they had bought at depressed prices at the end of World War I. According to Hammer, his first business success was in 1919, manufacturing and selling a ginger extract which legally contained high levels of alcohol. This was extremely popular during prohibition, and the company had $1 million in sales that year.
Years in the Soviet Union
In 1921, while waiting for his internship to begin at Bellevue Hospital, Hammer went to the Soviet Union for a trip that lasted until late 1930. Although his career in medicine was cut short, he relished being referred to as "Dr. Hammer." Hammer's intentions in the 1921 trip have been debated ever since. He has claimed that he originally intended to recoup $150,000 in debts for drugs shipped during the Allied intervention, but was soon moved by a capitalistic and philanthropic interest in selling wheat to the then-starving Russians. In his passport application, Hammer stated that he intended to visit only western Europe. J. Edgar Hoover in the Justice Department knew this was false, but Hammer was allowed to travel anyway. A skeptical U.S. government watched him through this trip, and for the rest of his life.
After graduating from medical school, Hammer extended earlier entrepreneurial ventures with a successful business importing many goods from and exporting pharmaceuticals to the newly-formed Soviet Union, together with his younger brother Victor. According to Hammer, on his initial trip, he took $60,000 in medical supplies to aid in a typhus epidemic and made a deal with Lenin for furs and caviars in exchange for a shipment of surplus American wheat. He moved to the USSR in the 1920s to oversee these operations, especially his large business manufacturing and exporting pens and pencils.
According to Alexander Barmine, who was assigned by the Central Committee to run the Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga company to compete with Hammer, the stationery concession was actually granted to Dr. Julius Hammer. Barmine states the party spent five million gold rubles on stationery supplies made in factories controlled by Julius Hammer and other concessionaires making them rich. Barmine further contends that the Soviets were eventually able to duplicate certain items such as typewriter parts and pens and end those concessions but were never able to match the quality of Hammer's pencils so that concession became permanent.
In his 1983 book, Red Carpet, author Joseph Finder discusses Hammer's "extensive involvement with Russia." In Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer, Edward Jay Epstein called Hammer "a virtual spy" for the Soviet Union.
After returning to the U.S., Hammer entered into a diverse array of business, art, cultural, and humanitarian endeavors, including investing in various U.S. oil production efforts. These oil investments were later parlayed into control of Occidental Petroleum. National Geographic described Occidental chairman Hammer as "a pioneer in the synfuels boom." Throughout his life he continued personal and business dealings with the Soviet Union, despite the Cold War. In later years he lobbied and traveled extensively at a great personal expense, working for peace between the United States and the Communist countries of the world, including ferrying physicians and supplies into the Soviet Union to help Chernobyl survivors. In his book The Prize, Daniel Yergin writes that Hammer "ended up as a go-between for five Soviet General Secretaries and seven U.S. Presidents."
Politically, Hammer was a supporter of the Republican Party. He boosted Richard Nixon's presidential campaign with $54,000 in campaign contributions. He pleaded guilty to charges that one of these donations had been made illegally and received probation and a $3,000 fine, but was later pardoned by Republican U.S. President George H. W. Bush.
Hammer purchased Knoedler, the oldest art gallery in America, in 1971. According to Knoedler's Vice President in charge of 19th- and 20th-century painting, John Richardson, "Hammer knew and cared as much about art as Al Capone".
He was a collector of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. His personal donation forms the core of the permanent collection of the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California. Together with his brother Victor, he was the owner of the famed "Hammer Galleries" in New York City.
Hammer was a philanthropist, supporting causes related to education, medicine, and the arts. Among his legacies is the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West (now generally called the UWC-USA, part of the United World Colleges). By the time of his death, Hammer had won the Soviet Union's Order of Friendship of Peoples, the U.S. National Medal of Arts (1987), France's Legion of Honor, Italy's Grand Order of Merit, Sweden's Royal Order of the Polar Star, Austria's Knight Commander's Cross, Pakistan's Hilal-i-Quaid-Azam Peace Award, Israel's Leadership Award, Venezuela's Order of Andrés Bello, Mexico's National Recognition Award, Bulgaria's Jubilee Medal, and Belgium's Order of the Crown. Hammer hungered for a Nobel Peace Prize, and was repeatedly nominated for one, including by Menachem Begin, but never won.
Association with the Gore family
Occidental's coal interests were represented for many years by attorney and former U.S. Senator Al Gore, Sr., among others. Gore, who had a longtime close friendship with Hammer, became the head of the subsidiary Island Creek Coal Company, upon his election loss in the Senate. Much of Occidental's coal and phosphate production was in Tennessee, the state Gore represented in the Senate, and Gore owned shares in the company. Former Vice President Al Gore, Jr. received much criticism from environmentalists, when the shares passed to the estate after the death of Gore, Sr., and Gore, Jr. was a son and the executor of the estate. Gore Jr. did not exercise control over the shares, which were eventually sold when the estate closed.
Hammer was very fond of Gore, Jr., and in 1984 under Hammer's guidance Gore, Jr. sought Tennessee's Senate office previously held by Howard Baker. Hammer supposedly promised Gore, Sr. that he could make his son the president of the United States. It was under Hammer's encouragement and support that Gore Jr. sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1988.
Arm & Hammer
In the 1980s Hammer owned a considerable amount of stock in Church & Dwight, the company that manufactures Arm & Hammer products; he also served on its board of directors. However, the Arm & Hammer company's brand name did not originate with Armand Hammer. It was in use 31 years before Hammer was born. He was spurred to buy shares in the company as a result of often being asked about the brand being so close to his name.
Hammer was the middle of three sons. He had close relationships, including business relationships, with his brothers, Harry and Victor Hammer, throughout their lives.
He married three times, first in 1927, to a Russian actress, Olga Von Root, the daughter of a czarist general. In 1943, he was married to Angela Zevely. In 1956, he married the wealthy widow Frances Barrett, and they remained married until her death in 1989.
Hammer died of bone marrow cancer in December 1990, aged 92 in Los Angeles, and was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, across the street from his Occidental building on Wilshire Boulevard.
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- “Like his father before him, Al Gore Jr.'s political career was lavishly sponsored by Hammer from the moment it began until Hammer died, only two years before Gore Clinton race for the White House in 1992.” Neil Lyndon, Hammer.
- "The Straight Dope: Did tycoon Armand Hammer have anything to do with Arm & Hammer baking soda?". straightdope.com.
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