16. Report Prepared in the Department of State0

INR Report 8100.3


The first exchange of exhibitions between the United States and the Soviet Union ended on September 6 with the closing of the American fair in Sokolniki Park in Moscow. The Soviet exhibition had closed in New York on August 10. An estimated 2.5 to 3 million Soviet citizens visited the US exhibition during its 43-day run, while the Soviet exhibition was seen by well over a million Americans during its somewhat shorter run. Despite certain negative aspects of the exchange, both sides viewed the outcome as successful.

The Soviet Exhibit

The Soviet Union appeared to be well pleased by the favorable reaction to its exhibition, which was seen at the New York Coliseum from July 25 to August 10. The Soviet press generally approved of the reception accorded the exhibit, though it did take issue with those US commentators who pointed out that many of the goods on display were not representative of what was generally available in the USSR.

Main Features. The focal point of the exhibition was the central area dominated by the heroic statue of a steel worker and a collection of sputniks. Simplicity and terseness contributed to the effectiveness of the relatively few propaganda slogans on view. These were devoted for the most part to three central themes: (1) peace and good relations with foreign countries; (2) Soviet economic progress; and (3) the social benefits of the Soviet system.

The inclusion of consumers’ goods in the exhibit struck a light note and was well received by the US press. Soviet correspondents were quick to report that Russian fashion models were getting front-page pictures in American newspapers while sultry Italian movie stars were being relegated to small notices on the inside pages. Despite their good press, the consumers’ goods displays had perhaps the least impact upon American visitors, who for the most part were well aware that the merchandise shown was not what was being offered to the Soviet consumer.

Audience. The Soviet exhibition differed most strikingly from its American counterpart in Moscow in the degree to which it was accessible to the public. Tickets could be bought at the Coliseum box office (adults $1, children 50 cents) by anyone. Moreover, those Americans who did not visit the exhibit had ample opportunity to become acquainted [Page 38] with it through extensive and generally favorable newspaper reports. Because of its novelty, the relatively small exhibit, with only about 15,000 square yards of floor space, commanded an unprecedented amount of space in the American press.

The US Exhibition

The American fair in Moscow enjoyed considerable success in spite of strenuous and concerted Soviet efforts to discredit it. While the attitude of the Soviet Government remained officially correct, Soviet propagandists conducted a well-planned campaign to belittle the exhibition in the eyes of the Russian people. The campaign, which began some weeks before the opening of the fair, expanded significantly after July 25, the opening date, and the volume of propaganda continued thereafter at a high level until the announcement of Khrushchev’s acceptance of President Eisenhower’s invitation to visit the United States.

Soviet Propaganda Handling. The Soviet propaganda effort proceeded along two main lines: (1) disparagement of the fair as a whole and of certain exhibits in particular, and (2) an increased emphasis in the Soviet press on the more negative side of American life, i.e., unemployment, bad housing, slums, etc. Attempts to discredit the fair itself began with an attack on the model house, which in a press conference was described by Ambassador Menshikov as beyond the means of the average American and by the Soviet press as no more like the home of a typical American worker than the Taj Mahal is like the home of a worker in Bombay. The Soviet press also seized eagerly upon criticisms in the United States leveled against the art exhibit and the racial integration portrayed in the fashion show.

With the opening of the fair, Soviet propaganda moved into high gear. Continuing to play upon the theme that the goods on display were obtainable only by the rich, the press attacked the fair for showing only the favorable side of American life. A typical technique employed was to print alleged criticisms of the fair by Soviet citizens, usually with a certain amount of “positive” comment on some particular exhibit thrown in to lend plausibility. Citizens were invariably described as “disappointed” by the failure of the fair to present a balanced picture of American life and to show the “technical achievements” of the United States. Criticism of a harsher sort was daily expressed by agitators planted on the grounds outside the fair, in the streets, and reportedly in the factories. Agitators in large numbers also entered the fair grounds, where they stationed themselves near the various exhibits in order to embarrass the guides and other Americans present with “loaded” questions. The sharpness and volume of agitation fell off after the announcement of Khrushchev’s forthcoming American visit but did not cease altogether.

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Harassment. Propaganda was supplemented by various kinds of obstructionism and harassment. Soviet authorities requested the removal of a considerable number of books from the display, including such innocuous items as the World Almanac, on the grounds that they contained “anti-Soviet propaganda.” They also insisted on the removal of a photograph (made in 1946) from the “Family of Man” exhibit of a Chinese child holding an empty rice bowl.

Ticket distribution, which was entirely under Soviet control, was handled through local Party organizations in such a way as to favor individuals of political reliability. Ticket booths in Moscow were deliberately uncooperative in providing information on where tickets could be obtained, and tickets went on public sale only during the second week of the fair. “Public sale,” as it turned out, meant sale to those whose names appeared on an approved list, and conversations with Soviet citizens revealed that not everyone was eligible to receive this favor.

Measures designed to distract attention from the fair were also carried out. The Soviet Government opened a new fair of its own—in another part of Moscow—which exhibited and sold a wide range of consumers’ goods and foodstuffs (some of which had previously been in short supply in the city), while the existing Soviet exposition of economic progress was expanded. In addition, a special exhibit of Soviet automobiles and household appliances was set up next to the US area in Sokolniki Park.

Restrictions on Soviet People. The variety of measures inaugurated by Soviet authorities to counteract the effects of the American fair and the degree of control instituted over Soviet visitors to the fair shows clearly the limits which the Soviet Government sets on “free exchanges” with the West. Even on the fair grounds the Soviet citizen was not free from surveillance and control. Instances of police intimidation of Soviet citizens were directly observed on a number of occasions, and by the end of the first week four arrests had been reported of individuals seen to have been speaking long and freely on political subjects with the guides. Known KGB agents were in constant attendance. The Soviet Union is clearly not ready to permit the kind of free competition with the West so often advocated by Khrushchev.

Public Reaction. Popular Soviet reaction to the exhibition was one of intense interest and general approval. Soviet visitors displayed enormous curiosity not only about the exhibits but about all facets of American life, and the American Russian-speaking guides, who were called upon for information on every conceivable subject, themselves became objects of interest and approval. The Negro guides made a distinct impression upon the visitors, since their appearance and obvious education [Page 40] conflicted strongly with the stereotype of the American Negro created by Soviet propaganda.

Disappointment at the absence of heavy machinery and other tangible examples of American technical achievements appeared to be to some extent genuine. Accustomed to such exhibits in their own country, Soviet citizens apparently hoped for a similar display of American technology. Also disappointing to Soviet visitors was the apparent lack of focus of the fair as a whole. While the aim of showing the wide variety of elements that go to make up American life may have been achieved, the effect upon the Soviet citizen, who is used to having things spelled out, may have been somewhat perplexing. A further criticism voiced by some of the visitors was the relative lack of emphasis upon religious life in the United States.

American automobiles and color television appeared to be two of the most popular exhibits at the fair, with Circarama a close third. Visitors invariably asked detailed questions about costs, amount of working time required to earn the purchase price, waiting period required, etc. The model house, the fashion show, the IBM question-answering machine and Pepsi-Cola were all extremely popular exhibits. The book corner proved to be a highly frequented area, the most popular works being books on art, architecture, and the sciences. Evidence of the interest shown by Soviet citizens in Western books was the rapid disappearance of books (some 600 the first day). Losses from the bookmobile were so high that the exhibit had to be closed until a new shipment of books could be flown in.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR Files. Official Use Only. This appeared as an article on pages 5–6 of the August issue of Sino-Soviet Affairs, which is the source text.