Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894–1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories, screenwriter, and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse).
Hammett "is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time". In his obituary in The New York Times, he was described as "the dean of the... 'hard-boiled' school of detective fiction." Time magazine included Hammett's 1929 novel Red Harveston its list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. His novels and stories also had a significant influence on films, including (but not limited to) the genres of private-eye/detective fiction, mystery thrillers and film-noir.
Hammett was born on a farm in Saint Mary's County, Maryland. His parents were Richard Thomas Hammett and Anne Bond Dashiell; his mother belonged to an old Maryland family, whose name in French was De Chiel. He had an older sister, Aronia, and a younger brother, Richard Jr. Known as Sam, Hammett was baptized a Catholic, and grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
He left school when he was 13 years old and held several jobs before working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He served as an operative for Pinkerton from 1915 to February 1922, with time off to serve in World War I. While at Pinkerton he was sent to Butte, Montana during the Union Strikes. The agency's role in union strike-breaking eventually left him disillusioned.
Hammett enlisted in the Army in 1918 and served in the Motor Ambulance Corps. He was afflicted during that time with the Spanish flu and later contracted tuberculosis. He spent most of his time in the Army as a patient at Cushman Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, where he met a nurse, Josephine Dolan, whom he married on July 7, 1921 in San Francisco.