Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal ArtsNomina
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ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants – the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
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ROGUE ROMANCE

 

Still, I try to select interesting people for this section. Inventors, founders, overlords, winners, benefactors and other founders, associates, those who show off and those who shock. In general, only such people can become the protagonist of a fascinating novel.

However, is there any hero? In childhood, I suppose, everyone read the novels Genghis Khan and Batu – these works would not fit. Those involved in the massacres, and even for ideological reasons, are not the heroes of my novel. But my characters don’t have to be heavenly angels.

Among them are the insidious intriguer Roksolana, who did not disdain anything in the struggle for a place under the sun, and the creator of the term “sexual revolution” Wilhelm Reich, who died in prison, where he got because  of undoubted quackery, and Prince Vladimir, a murderer and a rapist…

It’s just that a novel is a very rich literary genre. Have you forgotten about the rogue romance? The Satyricon, The Decameron, Golden Donkey, and even nowadays The Good Soldier Schweik and The Twelve Chairs are really books about ideal people? And it’s interesting to read…

So let’s try to tell you about a typical hero of a rogue novel, who was born exactly in those places that the sailor Zheleznyak never reached – either in Odessa, or in Kherson… A man, who was personally acquainted with six Soviet secretaries general, is not an ordinary person.

 

HAMMER AND SICKLE

 

His grandfather, Yakov, was a wealthy Kherson shipbuilder, but had invested too much money in a warehouse full of salt just before a terrible storm, and his fortune dissolved like salt in storm waves. His father, Julius Hammer, who lived in Odessa, realized that there were no prospects for inheritance, and in 1875 he went to seek happiness in the United States, where he quickly started a pharmacy business – 5 pharmacies at once.

His second son received the name Armand, completely atypical for a Jew and incomprehensible for Americans. He said more than once that he was named in honor of the hero of his father’s favorite book The Lady of the Camellias by the son of Alexandre Dumas – Armand Duval. At first glance, it’s strange…

It was only much later that it turned out that his father Julius had made a career in the Socialist Labor Party of America by that time (it did not interfere with business at all) and gave him a name that sounds like its symbol “arm and hammer”.

However, he was still lucky to be born almost two decades before 1917, in which part of the party members broke away into the US Communist Party, where Julius Hammer received membership card number 1. It was “sickle and hammer” in English – would they really name him Sikland?

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Communist Party of the United States

Towards the end of his life, he confirmed that The Lady with the Camellias was not in business, and the name was given to him out of party debt. For example, in his autobiography My Twentieth Century (a very fascinating book, if you are critical of it), he writes about it quite frankly – he does not care anymore.

 

BOOTLEGER

 

Armand followed in his father’s footsteps – he began to study medicine and went into business. His dishonest companion tried to steal business from the Hammers. The young student turned to a famous lawyer who charges $ 1000 per hour and said that he hadn’t had that kind of money, but for that amount he wanted to receive a letter from him that the Hammers would fight to the end. The lawyer agreed.

The swindler was scared to death by such a name and backed down. The lawyer immediately wrote that thanks to him the victory was won, and issued a bill of $ 10,000. In response, Hammer sent a copy of their agreement, and the lawyer realized that the number would not work. Later he said that Hammer was the only person who managed to outsmart him. And there it was difficult to outsmart a lawyer…

In the United States around that time, state after state introduced Prohibition, and Hammer began orderding massive quantities of ginger tincture for sore throat – it’s alcohol and not so unpleasant! Hammer quickly figured out what was going on, took out a loan and bought up almost all of the world’s ginger stocks.

Sales of ginger infusion skyrocketed without any sore throat, and a year later, without graduating from college, Hammer made $ 1,000,000 in net profit. Considering that the median income of an American in 1919 was $ 625, it was not so little money. The law did not forbid treatment for tonsillitis…

 

INSTEAD OF THE FATHER

 

Meanwhile, his father, following his convictions, in every possible way helped the USSR mission in New York, headed by Ludwig Martens, actually performing the role of its financial director. It is unlikely that it could please the American authorities, which could play a role in the future.

Soon the patient of his father died after the abortion he had performed – most likely from the Spanish flu, but they were very unhappy with him. He was arrested, charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. All the affairs he was doing fell on his son.

One of Hammer’s biographers claimed that the operation was not performed by the father, but by the son, and the father sacrificed himself to cover him and save him from trouble. He didn’t not provide evidence for the version, most other researchers disagreed with him. We would not blame him and we…

Meanwhile, Hammer Sr.’s firm signed an agreement with the Martens mission for $ 150,000 for the supply of oil equipment to the USSR. However, in 1921, Martens was expelled from the United States and the money did not come to Hammer. Then Hammer Jr. decided to go to the USSR for this money.

The hypotheses of some of his biographers that he was in fact on a secret mission to forge ties between American communists and Soviet leaders were not so significant. I would have passed it on and left, but he was staying in the USSR for a long time. In a sense, for life.

 

HE SAW LENIN!

 

In Russia, Hammer drew attention to the dire food shortages and immediately realized that food was now more important than the drugs he usually sold. The first deal to his company was the sale of 27,000 tons of wheat to the USSR for furs, black caviar and confiscated diamonds.

The importance of this deal was such that Hammer was honored with a reception from Lenin. They exchanged gifts: Hammer gave Lenin a bronze statuette of a monkey sitting on a Darwin book with a human skull in its paws, and Lenin gave Hammer his photograph.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Hammer’s gift to Lenin

Later, Hammer liked to tell that he flew to Moscow at night and went to the Mausoleum. They didn’t let him in, but he took out a document with the text: “Let the giver of this document Armand Hammer come to me at any time. Ulyanov-Lenin”. Whether they let him in or not, he didn’t say, and no one believed – but it was funny!

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
That portrait of Lenin

Later, when asked why his business in the USSR was so successful, Hammer often replied, “If you want to be successful, deal with the boss.” It makes sense everywhere, and especially in totalitarian countries like the USSR. Of the seven Soviet secretaries general, Hammer did not meet only with Andropov.

 

MANSION ON SADOVAYA STREET

 

In the United States, Hammer registered a company for trade with Russia and returned to Moscow for a full 8 years as a representative of 38 American companies, including Ford. He lived in a house on Sadovo-Samotechnaya, in the center of Moscow, modestly, only 24 rooms and a personal chauffeur to boot.

Even during the first meeting with Lenin, he received the concession of asbestos deposits near Alapaevsk. And soon he built a grand concession factory for the production of pencils in Moscow – however, now it bears the name not of Hammer, but of Sacco and Vanzetti.

But his business was not limited to it. He brought a huge amount of antiques form the USSR to America, among which were things of the imperial family. Its foreign representatives even sued, but could not prove that Hammer did not buy all this from private individuals. Indeed, he did not buy – he sold what was confiscated by the Soviet authorities, receiving interest from them.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Pencil advertising

Everyone agrees that, along with genuine things, Hammer sold a huge number of fakes. His Moscow office was located in the former mansion of the Faberge firm, and he got branded marks, so there were no problems with the production of fakes.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
This Faberge masterpiece is a fake

But Hammer’s involvement in secret operations to finance the American Communist Party, if not something worse, is a more serious accusation and, most likely, true. For these purposes, he even bought the Estonian Harju Bank, but a year later the Estonian government closed it – that’s why.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Harju Bank Documents

 

BACK IN THE USA

 

Nevertheless, Hammer’s relations with the Soviet regime deteriorated (and for whom did they improve over time?). The reason, perhaps, was that Hammer mistakenly believed that Trotsky would be Lenin’s successor, and was actively seeking contact with him. Stalin clearly did not like it.

And the policy changed – the authorities no longer needed foreign concessions. So Hammer had to give up the pencil factory (although he received normal compensation for it and removed the property, paying taxes). Business with the USSR did not end there for him.

In America, he found himself during the Great Depression and the repeal of Prohibition. The former rather hindered the sale of antiques, but the latter provided enormous opportunities. He began to produce his own brands of whiskey, it was of very low quality, but obviously cheap. For drunks.

Hammer quickly became friends with President Roosevelt, and it paid off. During the war, the government obliged all alcohol producers to transfer it to the treasury, and only for the Hammer company they made an exception – it continued to produce whiskey. In addition, it received a government subsidy and as a result became the largest alcohol producer in the United States.

 

OLD TIES

 

After the war, McCarthyism began and everyone associated with communism came under suspicion. The almighty FBI director Edgar Hoover personally became interested in Hammer. Hammer even ended up under interrogation, but he got out of the water once again and did not change his preferences.

After Stalin’s death, he again drew attention to the possibility of trade with the USSR. In 1961, his longtime partner in the sale of confiscated antiques Mikoyan arranged for him a meeting with Khrushchev. He gave Hammer a pencil with a ruby ​​star in memory of the factory, the products of which were also used by the Soviet leaders. But business projects did not get off the ground.

Armand began to look for another way of access to Khrushchev – through the Minister of Culture of the USSR, Yekaterina Furtseva. He proposed a number of ideas for increasing the cultural understanding of the peoples of the USSR and the United States by arranging exhibitions of outstanding works of art.

Together with Furtseva, he organized an exhibition of the famous American primitive artist Grandma Moses, which he wanted to use while meeting with Khrushchev. But the exhibition opened on November 12, 1964, when Khrushchev had been retired for more than a month.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Grandma Moses and her painting

 

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ROMANCE WITH BREZHNEV

 

Hammer made another attempt to intensify his affairs in the USSR only in 1972 – again with the help of Furtseva, having agreed with her to donate Goya’s painting The Portrait of Donna Antonia Zarate to the USSR. Until then, there was not a single picture of Goya in the USSR, and all the newspapers wrote about it.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Goya. The Portrait of Antonia Zarate

KGB experts considered the painting a fake, but colleagues from the Ministry of Culture only complained about its unsuccessful restoration. In response, Hammer was presented with a painting by Malevich, which he soon sold for $ 750,000. But Furtseva did not succeed in bringing him together with Brezhnev – her shares were falling…

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Lenin’s letter

Then Hammer made the next move through Suslov, he offered to give the USSR two genuine letters from Lenin. He said that he had bought it from an antiquarian in New York (there is information that they were stolen for him from one of the Moscow archives). It could not fail – the wrong ideology…

So he achieved a meeting with Brezhnev and got almost everything he wanted – a huge plant was built near Odessa for the production of fertilizers and an ammonia pipeline to this plant from Tolyatti. The plant is still in operation, although it is clearly not a gift for the environment.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Hammer and Brezhnev

At the same time, construction of the Hammer business center began in Moscow, where at one time was the programme What? Where? When? He often visited the construction site and once, having caught the builders for dominoes during working hours, reassured them, said that the ruling class in the United States also does not like to work.

 

BESIDES THE USSR

 

In the United States, Hammer’s main business was not alcohol, but oil – he sold the alcohol business and bought an oil company. Although it was close to ruin, in 10 years he brought it to a profit of $ 500 million, aided by a very lucrative oil concession in Libya.

Armand received it, promising, in addition to money, the Libyan king Idris to find a source of water near his native village. And when Gaddafi overthrew Idris, he agreed with him, increasing payments in favor of Libya and becoming the first oil boss to visit Libya after the revolution.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
King Idris

His company also worked in other countries – Peru, Nigeria, Venezuela. In Peru, he secured the repeal of a law banning foreign activity near the Peruvian border. And in Venezuela, his business was confiscated for bribes, but he acquitted himself in a local court and received compensation.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Armand Hammer from a family of Ukrainian emigrants - the favorite capitalist of the Soviet Union
Hammer Museum

Hammer’s passion for art culminated in the opening of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 1990, which has been called America’s most vain museum, a hot spot for contemporary art and ideas, and a place for serious research on forgotten historical themes.

 

POLITICAL GAMES

 

In the United States, Hammer was in contact with both Democrats and Republicans, but he provided special support to President Nixon – so active that after the Watergate scandal he was accused of illegally financing his party. He was advised to admit his guilt, but he refused.

When he did it, he was also charged with perjury. And after Hammer’s angry letter to the judge, in which he wrote that he was innocent, but was ready to plead guilty, he was also charged with insulting justice. The case smelled like jail time and wild fines.

Then Hammer said that he was sick, including mentally. He was taken to court in a wheelchair with two doctors, all entangled in wires and catheters, with a frozen face and almost incoherent speech. He pleaded guilty and received only a year’s probation and a $ 3000 fine – an incredibly low amount!

This exodus cured him instantly – the next day he was completely healthy and held a board meeting. But these miracles of medicine deprived him of a chance for the Nobel Peace Prize, for which he seriously claimed – convicts (except for human rights defenders) are not allowed!

 

WHAT NOW

 

In 1990, when he lived to be 92 years old, he died of cancer. As is often the case with such people, his inheritance turned out to be significantly less than everyone expected. A luxurious personal Boeing, wild spending on a museum – as a result, only $ 40,000,000 remained, for us a lot, but for him…

Armand’s only son, Julian Hammer, was so upset by his father’s inheritance that he didn’t even attend the funeral. For a long time, he and his family had to fight off the demands of various organizations, to which Hammer promised to donate money or owed.

Let’s say the Metropolitan Museum received from him $ 900,000 for a name inscribed in gold letters on the floor in the Hall of Fame and a promise to pay the same amount. The museum went to his grandson, but he did not want to pay and gave $ 200,000 to be removed – still a significant saving!

Nevertheless, his museum continues to work. He never received the Nobel Prize, although he was nominated, but he got the standard honor for a famous person – the asteroid Armandhammer No. 3376. And the plant near Odessa works, brings money, despite all the difficulties.

So do not blame me for recalling such a fellow countryman – we have all sorts of them. If someone reproaches, asking a rhetorical question, “Do I really advise to take an example from him?”, I will honestly answer, “Yes, I do! But not in everything!” By the way, it also applies to other characters in the rubric…

 

All illustrations are from open sources

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