Dear Cecil: How many ants are there in America? How many aunts? Is there about the same number of uncles? Does Armand Hammer have anything to do with Arm & Hammer baking soda? Larry C., Baltimore
Baltimore again. It never stops. We’ll attempt to ignore your first three questions, Larry, and confine our attentions to the fourth. The late Armand Hammer, of course, was the well-known head of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, one of the nation’s ten largest oil companies. Among other things, it owns (or owned–frankly I’ve lost track) Hooker Chemical Company, onetime proprietor of the notorious Love Canal toxic waste dump. I mention this purely as a matter of idle gossip. There are several versions of how Hammer came by his name. The most widely circulated is that his father, a radical who apparently also had a weakness for weird puns, named him after the arm-and-hammer insignia of the Socialist Labor Party in 1898. Explanation number two, which is perhaps even dumber, is that Armand was indeed named after Arm & Hammer baking soda. Hammer’s mother, Mama Rose, described by her son as “a remarkably intuitive individual, a person with an enormous judgment about things,” is said to have “had a simple solution for every problem–bicarbonate of soda and a good enema.” Given the alternative, I guess Armand should be grateful he was named after the soda. Hammer himself maintained that he was named after Armand Duval, the hero of Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame au Camelias, one of his father’s favorite plays. But he conceded that his father’s socialist leanings may also have been a factor. Whatever the truth of the matter, Hammer once painted an arm-and-hammer emblem on his yacht, giving rise to persistent speculation that he either was (a) the owner of Church & Dwight, makes of A&H baking soda, or (b) a Commie. Tired of explaining otherwise, Hammer tried to buy the company, but they didn’t want to sell. So in 1986 he settled for the next best thing, a partnership with Church & Dwight that netted Oxy Pete a sizable chunk of C&D stock and Hammer a seat on C&D’s board. For a time, then, Armand Hammer was a director and owner (if not THE owner) of Arm & Hammer. Occidental sold the stock shortly after Hammer’s death in 1990, apparently figuring a pun was not the best basis for a lasting business relationship. Freaking bean counters, they just have no sense of humor.
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