Armand Hammer's Genius

December 12, 1990

Dr. Armand Hammer never practiced medicine. Instead, the son of an early Russian-American communist spent his life making money. He was particularly successful in wheeling and dealing with the Soviet Union. Even at the height of the Cold War he believed that business links could turn ideological enemies into mutual profiteers. He often cited Ben Franklin as having said, "Trading partners usually do not make war."

Dr. Hammer died Monday at 92, having seen the Soviet Union and the United States reach closer ties than ever before. Much of the credit must go to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who when he was new to office was persuaded by Dr. Hammer, to reconsider the usefulness of talking to President Reagan, whom the Soviet had written off as a sworn enemy of his nation.

Throughout his career, Dr. Hammer enjoyed unparalleled access to Kremlin top leadership. He was perceived as a true friend of the Soviets because he stuck with them in bad times and good -- even after Stalin confiscated his businesses in Moscow in the 1920s. More importantly, Dr. Hammer was sanctified by an entry in Lenin's diaries in which he -- a capitalist! -- was referred to in a favorable way. All this made some Americans -- particularly diplomats stationed in Moscow -- suspicious of Dr. Hammer's ethics. But his advice was often sought in the White House.

The final years of Dr. Hammer's life were busier than ever. Occidental Petroleum, a tottering company he bought for peanuts, was thriving and the world was changing. He was particularly inspired by the leadership of Mr. Gorbachev, whom he would admiringly describe as a "young Lenin."

Dr. Hammer died on the day when Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze publicly asked the United States for food supplies to smooth over shortages experienced in the Soviet Union. Such an unprecedented request was a measure of the new frankness between the world's leading nuclear powers. But it was also a business opportunity Dr. Hammer would have understood. After all, his first involvement with the Soviet Union was swapping U.S. grain for Russian hides and furs during the famine of the 1920s.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.