Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 221

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 221

Comments
/
/
/
1295 Views

This is the grave of Samuel Hammersmark.

Born in 1872 in Norway, his family soon immigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago. Like so many young boys of the Gilded Age, he started work around the age of 13, as a clerk in a bookstore. Being in a bookstore at the time of the 1886 Eight-Hour strikes and then the Haymarket bombing and the martyrdom of the city’s leading anarchists turned him into a radical quickly. He became a sort of individualistic peace-loving anarchist, an iconoclast who also studied to be a minister, seeing no contradiction. He studied theology at Chesboro Seminary from 1889-93 and then just before being ordained as a minster, decided he was an atheist. Just after he became an atheist, the government crushed the Pullman strike and the associated Eugene Debs-led American Railway Union boycott. Inspired by these workers, he decided to study law. But he didn’t finish that either, and started floating around Chicago as a minor radical figure. And in many ways, that’s how he remained. But there’s nothing really wrong with that. He opened a shortly lived press that published a translation of Tolstoy and some writings of John Altgeld, the labor governor who sacrificed his career supporting workers against capitalists and cops. He was at the founding IWW convention in Chicago where he met all the famous radicals who were there–Lucy Parsons, Bill Haywood, Daniel DeLeon, Mother Jones.

Sometime around 1909, Hammersmark moved to Washington for awhile. While there, he met a railway car inspector named William Z. Foster. Later one of the most famous leftists in the United States, when Foster and anarchist editor Jay Fox came back to Chicago in 1912, hoping to bring utopian anarchist commune ideals that existed at the Home Colony on Puget Sound to Chicago, they convinced Hammersmark to help them out. He was in Tacoma at this point, running a tobacco shop and he gave them most of his money to support the enterprise. It naturally enough led to nothing. But, as Foster rose in the ranks of the left, Hammersmark was a trusted lieutenant. In 1919, Foster led one of the nation’s largest steel strikes to that point. Hammersmark was sent to Youngstown to lead the operations there. While he had no experience in steel, by this point, he had a good twenty years as an active leftist. That strike was crushed, but Hammersmark was not hurt by that at all. He became a leader in the Chicago labor movement and converted to communism in 1921, as so many anarchist types did after the Soviets became the established model for leftism. Foster was the nation’s leading communist by this time and Hammersmark remained his close ally and confidant. As far as I can tell, he remained a communist the rest of his life, though he became less obviously active as he got old. He did manage Modern Bookstore, the CP’s Chicago bookstore, thus remaining in his chosen profession both at the beginning and end of his life. Hammersmark died in 1957 in Chicago. He’s not that interesting of a figure per se, but is representative of the second tier of American radicals who never get any attention paid to them, but who lived lives dedicated to the improvement of humanity, even if they were never legendary leaders.

Samuel Hammersmark is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.

If you are interested in this series profiling more exciting second rank radical figures that you’ve probably never heard of, you can donate to cover the expenses here. It is much appreciated and will be used appropriately. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
It is main inner container footer text