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May 21: Armand Hammer

May 20, 2015

26335_lgHammer,ArmandArmand Hammer, a multi-millionaire whose name was derived from the “arm and hammer” symbol of the Socialist Labor Party of America (in which his father was a leader), was born in New York on this date in 1898. Hammer earned a medical degree from Columbia in 1921, then made his first fortune selling pharmaceuticals to the Soviet Union and serving as the trade representative to the USSR for some three dozen American companies. When the Soviets bought out his business in 1930, he came home with huge treasure confiscated from the Tsarist Romanoffs. After many other business twists and turns, most of them very profitable, Hammer helped to found Occidental Petroleum, a company he headed for decades until his death in 1990. He was also an influential art collector and an extravagant philanthropist. A strong advocate for U.S.-Soviet amity and nuclear disarmament, he was suspected by the FBI and others of being a Soviet spy. Hammer conceived of himself, however, simply as a world citizen: “I can’t think of anything better to do with a life than to wear it out in efforts to be useful to the world,” he said. Daniel Yergin called him “a go-between [for] five Soviet General Secretaries and seven U.S. Presidents.” The Arm & Hammer product logo (baking soda, detergent, etc.) had nothing to do with Armand Hammer, and predated his birth by 31 years; Hammer was so often asked about it that he attempted to buy the parent company, Church & Dwight, in 1986, and was one of its directors until his death.

“I am first and foremost a catalyst, I bring people and situations together. —Armand Hammer