Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 10 April 1953 until 18 September 1961 when he met his death in a plane accident while on a peace mission in the Congo. He was born on 29 July 1905 in Jonkoping in south-central Sweden. The fourth son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, Prime Minister of Sweden during the years of World War I, and his wife Agnes, M.C. (b. Almquist), he was brought up in the university town of Uppsala where his father resided as Governor of the county of Uppland.
At 18, he was graduated from college and enrolled in Uppsala University. Majoring in French history of literature, social philosophy and political economy, Mr. Hammarskjöld received, with honors, his Bachelor of Arts degree two years later. The next three years he studied economics, at the same university, where he received a “filosofic licenciat” degree in economics at the age of 23. He continued his studies for two more years to become a Bachelor of Laws in 1930.
Mr. Hammarskjöld then moved to Stockholm, where he became a secretary of a governmental committee on unemployment (1930-1934). At the same time he wrote his doctor’s thesis in economics, entitled, “Konjunkturspridningen” (The Spread of the Business Cycle). In 1933 he received his doctor’s degree from the University of Stockholm, where he was made assistant professor in political economy.
At the age of 31 and after having served one year as secretary in the National Bank of Sweden, Mr. Hammarskjöld was appointed to the post of Permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Finance. He concurrently served as Chairman of the National Bank’s Board, from 1941 to 1948. Six of the Board’s members are appointed by Parliament and the Chairman by the Government. This was the first time that one man had held both posts, the Chairmanship of the Bank’s Board and that of Under-Secretary of the Finance Ministry.
Early in 1945, he was appointed an adviser to the Cabinet on financial and economic problems, organizing and coordinating, among other things, different governmental planning for the various economic problems that arose as a result of the war and the postwar period. During these years, Mr. Hammarskjöld played an important part in shaping Sweden’s financial policy. He led a series of trade and financial negotiations with other countries, among them the United States and the United Kingdom.
In 1947 he was appointed to the Foreign Office, where he was responsible for all economic questions with rank of Under-Secretary. In 1949, he was appointed Secretary-General of the Foreign Office and in 1951, he joined the Cabinet as Minister without portfolio. He became, in effect, Deputy Foreign Minister, dealing especially with economic problems and various plans for close economic cooperation.
He was Vice-Chairman of the Swedish Delegation to the Sixth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly in Paris 1951-1952, and acting Chairman of his country’s delegation to the Seventh General Assembly in New York in 1952-1953.
Although he served with the Social-Democratic cabinet, Mr. Hammarskjöld never Joined any political party, regarding himself as an independent, politically.
On 20 December 1954, he became a member of the Swedish Academy. He was elected to take the seat in the Academy previously held by his father. Elected to two terms as Secretary-General Mr. Hammarskjöld was unanimously appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations by the General Assembly on 7 April 1953 on the recommendation of the Security Council. He was reelected unanimously for another term of five years in September 1957.
During his terms as Secretary-General, Mr. Hammarskjöld carried out many responsibilities for the United Nations in the course of its efforts to prevent war and serve the other aims of the Charter.
In the Middle East these included: continuing diplomatic activity in support of the Armistice Agreements between Israel and the Arab States and to promote progress toward better and more peaceful conditions in the area; organization in 1956 of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) and its administration since then; clearance of the Suez Canal in 1957 and assistance in the peaceful solution of the Suez Canal dispute; organization and administration of the United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL) and establishment of an office of the special representative of the Secretary-General in Jordan in 1958.
In 1955, following his visit to Peking, 30 December 1954 – 13 January 1955, 15 detained American fliers who had served under the United Nations Command in Korea were released by the Chinese People’s Republic. Mr. Hammarskjöld also traveled to many countries of Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East, either on specific assignments or to further his acquaintance with officials of member governments and the problems of various areas.
On one of these trips, from 18 December 1959 to 31 January 1960, the Secretary-General visited 21 countries and territories in Africa — a trip he described later as “a strictly professional trip for study, for information”, in which he said he had gained a “kind of cross-section of every sort of politically responsible opinion in the Africa of today”.
Later in 1960, when President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Republic of the Congo sent a cable on 12 July asking “urgent dispatch” of United Nations military assistance to the Congo, the Secretary-General addressed the Security Council at a night meeting on 13 July and asked the Council to act “with utmost speed” on the request. Following Security Council actions the United Nations Force in the Congo was established and the Secretary-General himself made four trips to the Congo in connection with the United Nations operations there.
The first two trips to the Congo were made in July and August 1960. Then, in January of that year, the Secretary-General stopped in the Congo while en route to the Union of South Africa on another mission in connection with the racial problems of that country. The fourth trip to the Congo began on 12 September and terminated with the fatal plane accident.
In other fields of work, Mr. Hammarskjöld was responsible for the organization in 1955 and 1958 of the first and second UN international conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy in Geneva, and for planning a UN conference on the application of science and technology for the benefit of the less developed areas of the world held in 1962.
He held honorary degrees from Oxford University, England; in the United States from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Amherst, John Hopkins, the University of California, Uppsala College, and Ohio University; and in Canada from Carleton College and from McGill University.
- Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld Biography and Profile (United Nations)