John Callaway interviews: Armand Hammer

John Callaway interviews entrepreneur and chairman of Occidental Petroleum Armand Hammer in February of 1981. The interview goes in depth into Hammer's childhood, his many business ventures, as well as controversial political policies of the time with the Soviet Union.

00:01Copy video clip URL Start video. Slate: “John Callaway Interviews 4. No. 403 Armand Hammer, Air Master.”

00:03Copy video clip URL Opening animation of Chicago skyline from a low one point perspective. Followed by the title, “WTTW Chicago presents.”

00:14Copy video clip URL Fade in to close up of host John Callaway pointing to a model belonging to Armand Hammer.

00:18Copy video clip URL Callaway: “Interesting toy, isn’t it, but it’s not really a toy. It doesn’t belong to a child and it certainly doesn’t represent child’s play. It belongs to Dr. Armand Hammer, 82 year old chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corporation.”

00:34Copy video clip URL Callaway introduces some of Hammer’s collection of signed photographs of political figures including: Ronald Reagan, Margret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev, King Faisal, Prince Charles, Lyndon B. Johnson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Nikolai Lenin.

01:07Copy video clip URL Still of Callaway standing beside Hammer. Title/Voice-over: John Callaway Interviews Armand Hammer.

01:11Copy video clip URL Callaway introduces the origins of Hammer’s life.

01:46Copy video clip URL Callaway begins his interview with Hammer. Callaway: “Dr. Hammer, how did you make your first million?” Hammer notes that when he was a medical student his father had invested in a small pharmaceutical company. When his father had a heart attack Hammer was asked to take over and continue going to school at night.

02:35Copy video clip URL Callaway: “What was the key thing you did to make that business thrive?” Hammer says that he noticed ginger was a popular item being sold for medicinal purposes. He investigated and found ginger came from only two or three countries overseas, so he cornered the market so that all his competitors had to buy ginger from him.

03:52Copy video clip URL Callaway: “Isn’t it fair to say that your father was one of the outstanding socialists in this country at same the time? Why didn’t you buy into his socialism? How did you get to be the way you are, Dr. Hammer?” Hammer says he didn’t believe in Socialism, that people needed to be motivated.

04:31Copy video clip URL Callaway: “Your father was railroaded because of his political beliefs, was he not?” Hammer admits that Tammany Hall was against his father. He tells a story of how his father was wrongly found guilty of a wealthy pregnant woman’s death. The woman had tried to initiate a miscarriage and died from complications that resulted. He went to prison at Sing Sing.

07:10Copy video clip URL Hammer describes his time in 1920s Soviet Union. He notes he used left over military medical supplies from World War One. He had been invited to help revive the industry there. Upon seeing starving refugee adults and children he asked the officials he was with why they didn’t buy grain from the US to help feed their starving people. The officials said they needed one million bushels to save one millions lives until the next harvest. Hammer responded that he had a million dollars. They made a contract right there and Hammer wired his brother to start loading ships with grain. He tells a funny story of giving a public speech in Russia only to learn later that no one in the audience could understand is poor Russian grammar. They thought he was speaking English.

10:38Copy video clip URL Hammer talks about his relationship with Nikolai Lenin and how he helped open up trade with Russia. Hammer notes that his purchase of US grain to give to starving Russians caught the attention of Lenin who sent for him. Lenin said Russia needs good business people and admitted that Communism was not working. Lenin wanted to encourage foreigners to come in. Lenin asked Hammer to be the first concessionaire.

11:36Copy video clip URL Hammer describes Lenin as a warm humanitarian. Hammer recalls telling Lenin about the starving kids he’d seen and saw that tears where in his eyes. Hammer says at that moment he felt that he wanted to stay in Russia and help Lenin. When asked, Hammer told Lenin the two concessions he wanted were: mining for asbestos and a share in the monopoly of foreign trade. He got what he wanted and made a 50/50 deal with Lenin.

12:50Copy video clip URL Hammer says he next returned to the US and met with Henry Ford, Sr. to ask for the agency  to produce Ford cars in Russia. But Ford didn’t like the Government there and said he wanted to wait until the Government changed. Hammer replied, “Mr. Ford, you’re going to have to wait a long time.” Hammer got Ford’s agency plus the agency of 3,700 American companies. For five years after, Hammer notes, any trade that went on between the US and Russia went through his hands.

14:29Copy video clip URL Hammer discusses how something as simple as a lead pencil can summarize his business philosophy. He says now that Russia was changing and more of the public was learning to read and write, an investment in manufacturing lead pencils, which were hard to find in Russia, would be wise. He enlisted the help of the head of the top German manufactures, from which Russia had been buying their pencils,  to help show him how to make a good lead pencil. In less than six months, he had a thriving lead pencil factory.

16:21Copy video clip URL Callaway summarizes Hammer’s time in Russia and describes the wealth he left with.

17:27Copy video clip URL Hammer explains the circumstances surrounding his entry into the alcohol business and how he used the knowledge he had acquired during his time in Russia to make his business extremely profitable.

20:33Copy video clip URL Hammer’s problem of what to do with the grain byproduct from the production of alcohol leads him into cattle business. On a tip Hammer invested in barrels of Whiskey from a whiskey distillery that was prepared to issue a barrel of whiskey for every stock someone bought. Hammer bought 5,500 shares and received 5,500 barrels of whiskey. Instead of reselling the whiskey, he had learned that a person could make alcohol from potatoes. He found a distillery in New Hampshire that was for sale and checked it out with an expert distiller. The distiller told him he could convert the distillery from a grain alcohol maker to a potato alcohol maker. He did, buying up an over harvest of potatoes in Maine. Maine was overrun with potatoes. As a result, Hammer could buy potatoes for only a few cents a bag. He made alcohol from the potatoes, mixed it with his whiskey. By using 20 per cent whiskey and 80 per cent alcohol he turned 5,000 barrels of whiskey into 15,000 barrels and made a fortune.

20:35Copy video clip URL Hammer tells the story of how he want to use a grain byproduct left over from distilling whiskey to feed and produce the best angus cattle. He purchased a prize-winning female and, eventually, the country’s best bull. Hammer says the bull made for him two million dollars in breeding. Hammer adds that no one will ever out bid him if there is something he really wants.

24:49Copy video clip URL Callaway: “You want a da Vinci notebook you get a da Vinci notebook. You got a good deal on that notebook, didn’t you?” Hammer tells of how Italian Government appropriated ten million dollars to purchase da Vinci’s notebook, but after a recent earthquake left so many of its citizens in need, the Government couldn’t justify the expense. This allowed Hammer to purchase the notebook for about five million dollars.

25:41Copy video clip URL Callaway: “Dr. Hammer, why did you want to retire in 1956?” He says he and his wife wanted to move to California and enjoy theweather. But when  he got there he became restless. A friend of his told him of the value of oil drilling and about a company called Occidental Petroleum. All they had was some depleted oil wells. They had two leases they were certain held oil, but didn’t have the money to drill. Hammer loaned them fifty thousand to drill for half interest in those wells. Both wells proved full of oil! Hammer was made President of the company.

28:09Copy video clip URL Callaway: “What do you say to the critics who say what you’ve got here is Dr. Armand Hammer trying, and in many instances succeeding, in running a one run man show, like he owned the company, but it’s a publicly held firm regulated by the FCC?” Hammer discredits this as an exaggeration. “No man could do  this alone.” He says he hire good people to support his ventures. He initially paid them in stock options.

30:32Copy video clip URL Callaway: “Don’t you scare people because you do take on great ventures and you do take great chances?” That depends on how you define chance. Callaway notes everyone telling Hammer to get out of Libya, that they weren’t going to find oil there, but he stayed despite the warnings and came out okay. Hammer says it’s because he hires good people.

32:06Copy video clip URL Callaway: “Nineteen other oil companies go into the Amazon basin. They spend a billion dollars exploring. They come up with zip. You go in, forty-seven wells forty-three score. How do you explain that?” Hammer gives credit to his geologists. But they work for themselves and a lot work seven days a week. It’s not about being lucky, it’s about applying yourself and studying the problem and attracting capable men.

33:22Copy video clip URL Hammer jokes that he’s kept his medical license up to date in case business goes bad and he has to return to practicing medicine for a living.

34:13Copy video clip URL Hammer discusses the effect Muammar Gaddafi’s rise to power in Libya created for his oil company.

37:48Copy video clip URL Callaway clears up misconceptions surrounding Armand Hammer’s name. It has nothing to do with baking soda. There s also speculation it’s a reference to the graphic “arm and hammer” symbol of Socialism. But Hammer says that his name is in honor of a character in one of his father’s favorite stories, the character, Armand Duval, in La Dame aux Camelias by the novelist Dumas.

38:33Copy video clip URL Callaway describes Hammer’s involvement in trade between the United States and Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s.

39:41Copy video clip URL Hammer shares his opinions on the 1979 embargo of exports to the Soviet Union and the Soviet war with Afghanistan.

43:12Copy video clip URL Callaway: “You trust Brezhnev don’t you?” “Was the fact that President Nixon did what he did, with respect to the Soviet Union, what induced you to risk going to jail to provide him with campaign funds for 1972’s election?”

50:33Copy video clip URL Callaway: “How come you’re doing business with the Soviet Union?” Hammer agrees that the US needs to be strong militarily, but we’re on the verge of danger because Communism doesn’t work. It produces a poor standard of living and eventually it must give way to a modified system. He argues that support is a two-way street. We supply Russia with phosphate and Russia in return supplies us with ammonia, which the US needs. The trade is mutually beneficial. Trade, he argues, is a good way to keep the lines of communication open. Without communication we run the risk of a misunderstanding that could lead to a devastating nuclear war. He notes that when he went to Russia in 1921 to represent Henry Ford, he was the only private citizen in Russia who owned a car. Now Russia produces a million cars a year. Half are going to private hands. Hammer adds, “Every Russian citizen who owns an automobile is no longer a Communist. He’s a Capitalist!”

54:05Copy video clip URL Hammer explains the four things he believes will improve the United States economy. He says the high cost of energy has caused a lot of the current recession. First, we need to improve relations with Mexico, because they have large oil fields. Second, we’ve got to use more coal. Third, make use of shale oil. Fourth, we should liquify coal.

56:36Copy video clip URL Callaway: “Armand Hammer, you’re eighty-two years old. What do you want to do that you haven’t done?” Find a cure for cancer, bring peace to the world, help human rights, get the Russians out of Afghanistan.

57:51Copy video clip URL Credits.

58:39Copy video clip URL End tape.



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