Jay Sterner Hammond was born in Troy, New York in 1922. Hammond studied petroleum engineering at Penn State University. He later served as a Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II with the Black Sheep Squadron, and in China, until 1946. That year, Hammond moved to Alaska where he worked as a bush pilot and earned a degree in biological sciences at the University of Alaska.
Hammond served as a state representative from 1959 to 1965 and as a state senator from 1967 to 1973. He was Senate President in his final two years in the legislature.
Hammond was the mayor of the Bristol Bay Borough from 1972 to 1974. He also served as the borough's manager during his time away from the legislature in the 1960s.
Hammond was elected governor in 1974 in a close result over incumbent William A. Egan.
As governor during the biggest economic boom in Alaska's history, the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, Hammond oversaw the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
During his first term as governor, Hammond, along with a young Kenaipo state representative named Hugh Malone, conceived a program to invest oil royalties to cover future state budget deficits, as well as to create a long-term savings account. Alaska voters approved an amendment to the Constitution establishing a Permanent Fund in 1976, which is one of the rare exceptions to the constitutional intention not to allocate funds for specific purposes.
As governor, Hammond advocated for fiscal responsibility, and introduced an amendment to the Alaska Constitution limiting state spending.
After his tenure as governor, Hammond continued to be actively involved in public life. He advocated environmentally and financially responsible government and individual civic responsibility. Hammond wrote articles for newspapers in Alaska and appeared in social ads on television .
From 1985 to 1992, he hosted a television series called "Jay Hammond's Alaska".
Hammond survived a rafting accident on August 6, 1988 while filming an episode of the series on the Tana River in Wrangel Street Elias National Park.
Hammond lived at his homestead on Lake Clark, until his death at age 83 on August 2, 2005. According to his wife, Bella, he died peacefully in his sleep.