Deal-maker Armand Hammer Moscow's capitalist comrade
This office is the last place a person would expect to find a picture of Lenin, personally autographed. "To Comrade Armand Hammer from V. I. Ulyanov [Lenin], 10.XI.21 [Nov 10, 1981] ," it reads. Dr. Armand Hammer is 100 percent, unadulterated, prime-cut capitalist, a free- enterprise man if ever there was one, light-years away from Lenin's ideology.Skip to next paragraph
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The comradeship with Lenin is genuine becausem of Dr. Hammer's capitalism, not in spite of it. Young Hammer, just out of medical school, arrived in the new Soviet state in 1921 full og idealism and savvy. With Lenin's official blessing and encouragement, he injected the beleaguered Russian economy with a touch of free enterprise. He brought some much- needed vigor to that economy and gained the admiration and support of Lenin in the process.
Yet the framed black and white photograph of the father of Soviet Russia hangs near another memento in Dr. hammer's office, one closer to the substance of his grit. It is a scale model of a drilling rig, the one that brough in Lathrop field, the second largest natural gas well in California, and propelled Dr. Hammer into a position as one of the most powerful captains of American industry.
No, Armand Hammer is not the "baking soda king" -- people constantly ask him and those associated with him if he is -- even though his name matches that of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda. In fact, he is said to have considered buying the company just to put the issue to rest. He claims that his mother named him Armand for the youthful lover in Dumas's "Camille," but another account claims his father, a stalwart socialist, named him for the arm and hammer insignia that was the symbol of socialist revolution at the time.
Dr. Hammer is or has been an oilman a coal man, a chemical man, an art collector and dealer, a cattle breeder, a liquor distiller, and -- neither last nor least -- perhaps the greatest marketing genius since P. T. Barnum. His competitors probably wish he were the baking soda king, since when he takes up an endeavor he is apt to leave a trail of second- place finishers behind him.
For instance, the people at Texaco ara, no doubt, none too happy about the Lathrop gas field. Acting on the advice of a young geologist, Dr. Hammer had his company drill a gas well only a few hundred feet from -- but a thousand feet deeper than -- a well Texaco had abandoned as dry. Dr. Hammer's well brought in and gas industry.
They are not thrilled about him at Mobil, either. He sank a well in a lease tract in Libya that Mobil had given up on and came away with the largest oil strike in one of the Middle East's oil-richest countries.
As for New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, "I think they get very nervous when I walk in there," Dr. Hammer says with a chuckle.He made off with two paintings -- Rembrandts -- for his private art collection that the Met had on loan and had counted on keeping indefinitely. And when he bought "Juno" and "Man Holding a Black Hat," on separate occasions, for $3 million and $2 million, respectively, Dr. Hammer pulled the rug out from two meseums which thought they had the masterpieces as good as signed, sealed, and delivered. Mentioning the name "Hammer" at those three museums does not evoke gushes of warm feeling.
His present title is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Occidental Petroleum Company, or "Oxy," as it is universally known. In a sense, Oxy started out as a retirement project for Dr. Hammer. In 1956 he had left the East Coast to retire to California with his millions. In Los Angeles, a friend pointed him in the direction of Occidental Oil, a company teetering on the abyss of bankruptcy. The friend suggested that Dr. Hammer lend the company $50,000 to drill two new wells -- its last two if they came up dry -- as a tax write-off. According to the company's balance sheet, which now hangs on Dr. Hammer's office wall, Oxy itself was worth $16,000 less than that.