Press Reference Library: Notables of the West/Chapter 11

HAMMOND, JOHN HAYS, Consulting Engineer, San Francisco, New York and London, was born in San Francisco, California, March 31, 1855, the son of Major Richard Pindle Hammond and Sarah Elizabeth (Hays) Hammond. His father, a native of Maryland, was graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1841 and served with distinction in the Mexican War, retiring from the army with the rank of major. He afterwards settled in California with his wife, who was a daughter of Harmon Hays, a Tennessee planter, and sister of Colonel John C. Hays, famous as a commander of Texas Rangers In the border war days.

Mr. Hammond married Miss Natalie Harris, daughter of Judge J. W. M. Harris of Mississippi on New Year's day, 1880, and to them there have been born four sons. Harris, John Hays, Jr., Richard Pindle and Nathaniel Hammond. H Mr. Hammond, who has been called the greatest engineering genius of his era and has conquered obstacles in most of the civilized and uncivilized parts of the world, inherited his engineering ability from his father. He was also fortunate in having splendid educational advantages in his training period.

He received his preliminary education in public and private schools, going from Hopkins Grammar School, at New Haven, Connecticut, to Yale University. He was graduated from Sheffield Scientific School of Yale in 1876, with the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, and in 189S, twenty-two years later, Yale conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts.

Following the completion of his course at Yale, he studied for three years in the Royal School of Mines at Freiberg, Saxony, but did not graduate. Other collegiate honors bestowed upon him in later years were the degree of Doctor of Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology, in 1906, and that of Doctor of Laws, conferred upon him in 1907 by St. Johns College. From the time he left school Mr. Hammond has been progressing successfully and successively in the world of mining and mine engineering, until today, with a wonderful record of accomplishment behind him, he stands at the head of his profession, this position being voted him by his contemporaries in all parts of the world.

Upon his return from Saxony, in 1880, Mr. Hammond was chosen by the United States Government as special expert for the Geological Survey to examine the gold fields of California. His report on the gold resources of his native State, made after the most thorough investigation, was the most comprehensive ever prepared up to that time and is one of the record government authorities. His work in this capacity established Mr. Hammond as one of the experts of the mining world and for the next few years succeeding he was in great demand for examination and research work.

In 1892, when he was barely thirty-seven years of age, Mr. Hammond was chosen as superintendent of large silver properties in Sonora, Mexico, and during the time he was there he also examined a number of other valuable properties, thereby gaining first-hand information about the mining possibilities of the Republic.

He was called back to San Francisco from Mexico to become consulting engineer of mines in Grass Valley, California, and also was chosen as Consulting Engineer for the Union Iron Works of San Francisco, the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific Railroads. The work accomplished by Mr. Hammond in these offices added to his reputation and he was commissioned to examine mining properties in all parts of the world. Finally, in 1893, he was summoned to South Africa by the celebrated diamond and gold magnates, Barnato Brothers of London and South Africa. This was the beginning of one of the most thrilling and picturesque chapters in his entire life, for, after a short experience in the country, he became associated with Cecil Rhodes, then Chief Engineer of his enterprises, and with the immortal empire-builder he took a conspicuous part in that country's upbuilding.

Mr. Hammond was one of the intimates of the great Rhodes in his plans and in his engineering triumphs not only won the respect and admiration of the leader, but caused a feeling among the natives of the country that made them put him in the class of the wonder-worker. For instance, Mr. Hammond turned the wild trails of certain places into level streets and platted cities almost over night; built mine elevators by which thousands of the natives were shot down into the mines in the morning and brought back to the surface of the earth at evening, and accomplished other feats which so startled the people that they really regarded him as superhuman.

As an ardent supporter of Cecil Rhodes, Mr. Hammond naturally came to have a prominent part in the political plans of his leader and was one of the four great leaders of the reform movement in the Transvaal. It was during this time that Rhodes stationed a body of 600 men, under Dr. Leonard Starr Jameson, on the border of the Transvaal to be prepared for any disturbances which might be fomented by the Uitlanders. Mr. Hammond was with him. Finally, Jameson made his celebrated raid, which resulted so disastrously, and Mr. Hammond, who was not in sympathy with the movement, was one of the chief sufferers. Dr. Jameson, on his own initiative, went forward one day to attack Krugersdorp, but met with such fierce resistance that even his bombardment of the town proved ineffectual and his attack failed. He next attacked Doornkoop, but after a terrific battle of thirty-six hours' duration, in which he lost seventeen men killed and forty-nine wounded, he was compelled to surrender to the Boers.

While connected with the Rhodes enterprises as Consulting Engineer of the Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa, the British South Africa Company and the Randfontein Estate Gold Mining Company, Mr. Hammond accomplished marvels in the engineering work and is given credit for a large part of the success attaching to the development of Rhodesia. It was while there that he displayed a side of his character that showed the bigness and fairness of the man, the incident here related being told by a warm friend of his some years after it occurred. Jameson and his officers were turned over to the British Government for punishment and Mr. Hammond, as one of the supposed leaders, was first sentenced to death for his part in the raid. This later was commuted to fifteen years' imprisonment and finally he regained his freedom by paying to the Transvaal Government $125,000. As the story goes, Mr. Hammond, in his capacity of Chief Engineer, commissioned a younger man, in whom he had great confidence, to handle a large operation and this man, through an error of judgment, caused damage which meant the loss of a tremendous amount of monev to his employers. Humiliated and discouraged, the younger engineer appeared before Mr. Hammond, told him what he had done and tendered his resignation. The elder man would not accept it, but instead told his assistant how the damage could be repaired, and then said to him: "You cannot afford to make this mistake. You are a young man and have your whole life before you. If I make this mistake, the world will not take it so seriously, and, as I sent you out, I will stand responsible for the damage." This he did, and the younger man, who was ready to abandon the work for which Mr. Hammond considered him born, was saved from disgrace.

He is today one of the great and successful engineering experts of the world. This is a story that Mr. Hammond never relates himself, nor is the writer aware that it has ever appeared in print before.

Following the completion of his works in South Africa and his exoneration, morally, for his part in the Jameson raid, Mr. Hammond settled in London, England, and there became interested in a number of large mining companies in various parts of the world, including the United States and Mexico. In directing and overseeing these operations, he made many trips to the United States and other parts of the world, finally returning to his native country to remain permanently.

Becoming associated with the great Guggenheim Brothers' mining interests as Chief Engineer for the Guggenheim Exploration Company of New York, Mr. Hammond took his place at the head of his profession in this country, at a salary variously estimated from half a million to a million dollars per annum. All the mining operations of this gigantic concern were placed under his personal supervision and he embarked upon one of the most extensive development enterprises ever known to the mining industry of America. He designed and supervised the construction of a vast system of canals in the placer lields of Alaska and opened up many valuable coal and metal properties in that northernmost possession of ilu- United States. He also directed operations in various other parts of the United States, in Old Mexico and abroad, and made frequent trips to Russia and Siberia in the interest of his employers. His work in this capacity is a part of mining history.

A few years back, Mr. Hammond became interested in the Yaqui River Delta Land & Water Company, projectors of the largest irrigation and general development enterprise ever undertaken in Mexico. This company owns more than a million acres of land in the Yaqui River Valley, which it is reclaiming and opening to settlement, and Mr. Hammond is one of the owners as well as Chief Engineer and designer of the world.

Mr. Hammond, who is regarded abroad as the typiflcation of American progress, has been a factor in American political life for many years. In 1908, at the solicitation of friends, in many States, he became the candidate for Massachusetts for the nomination of Vice President at the Republican National Convention, held that year in Chicago. Because of his great professional record and his personal popularity, his candidacy rapidly gained strength, delegates from Massachusetts, his residence, and California, his native State, making a vigorous fight in his behalf. Other States, particularly the mining States of the West, rallied to his standard, and nis headquarters, at the Congress Hotel in Chicago, was the scene of the greatest activity in the pre-convention days. His choice for the position of running-mate to Taft seemed assured and, as events proved, he would have been elected to the second highest office in the land; but as the nominations were about to be made, Mr. Hammond became convinced that the election of President Taft could be made more certain by the selection of a New York man as the Republican party's candidate for Vice President, so he withdrew in favor of James Schoolcraft Sherman, of Utica, New York, and threw all of his support to him.

Mr. Hammond, because of his great ability as an organizer, was later chosen as President of the National League of Republican Clubs, and in this capacity was enabled to render great assistance. President Taft and Mr. Hammond are warm personal friends and at their summer homes in Massachusetts have frequently played golf together. This close association gave President Taft a clearer insight into the character of Mr. Hammond than could be had in the formal meetings of public life and in 1911, when it came time to choose a diplomatic envoy to represent the United States among the nations at the Coronation of King George Fifth and Queen Mary, the Chief Executive appointed Mr. Hammond Special Ambassador. The visit of Mr. Hammond and his wife to the English court was a triumph for them and their country. They were paid many honors by the newly crowned rulers and other notables who figured in the ceremonies, and they, in turn entertained lavishly. The reception accorded Mr. Hammond on this occasion was one of the most pleasing of his life and demonstrated to the world at large that any feeling which England may have had for his part in the Jameson affair had been obliterated by his later and greater accomplishments for the good of the Empire. His relations with King George were the most cordial of any had by a foreign delegate to the coronation. In addition to this honor, President Taft also reposed other confidences in Mr. Hammond, advising with him on many matters of great importance to the country.

In his world-wide travels Mr. Hammond has made a deep study of international trade relations, and some of his utterances concerning development of foreign trade for the United States have been adopted as the basis of trade reform. He has also taken a very prominent part In the advocacy of reforms in the nation's mining laws, and has helped in the creation of numerous acts passed by Congress in recent years for the protection of lives and property of the miners. Because of his prominence in this respect and his frequent conferences at the White House, it was reported many times that President Taft was seeking to have him enter his Cabinet.

Mr. Hammond served as President of the American Institute of Mining Engineers during the years 1907 and 1908. He has contributed numerous articles on mining and engineering matters to the technical press, and despite his diversified interests, has found time to lecture before the young aspirants for engineering honors at various institutions of learning. Among others he has lectured before the classes of Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins Universities. Other organizations in which Mr. Hammond is a leading figure are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of which he was elected a Fellow in 1891, the National Civic Federation and several lesser ones of a political or civic nature. He is a member of the Century and University Clubs, of New York, and of the University Clubs of Denver, Salt Lake City and San Francisco.

He makes his home at Gloucester, Massachusetts, but has offices in London and New York.