Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born on May 27, 1894 in St Mary's County, Maryland. Raised in Baltimore and Philadelphia, he attended Baltimore Polytechnic until he was 13 years old, but was forced to drop out and work a series of jobs to help support his family.
At the age of 21 Hammett was hired by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as an operative. After a stint in the United States Army during World War II, he married a nurse named Josephine Annas Dolan, whom he met when he fell ill with tuberculosis.
In 1922, Hammett began writing for Black Mask magazine. Using his background in detective work, he created the tough guy detective characters Sam Spade and the Continental Op, as well as debonair sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. By 1927, Hammett had written the Poisonville series, which later became the novel Red Harvest. He wrote more than 85 short stories and five novels during his lifetime. The novels include The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Thin Man, and The Maltese Falcon, which was later adapted into a classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart. He also wrote an autobiography entitled Beams Falling: The Art of Dashiell Hammett.
After his marriage faltered in the late 1920s, Hammett met Lillian Hellman, then a married 24-year-old aspiring playwright. In 1930, Hellman left her husband for Hammett. Eventually they both divorced their spouses and, although the two never married, they remained together until Hammett's death on January 10, 1961.