How Betty Crocker Helped to End Soviet Communism...
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Gregory Morrow
2013-10-06 18:23:18 UTC


Jul 24, 2013 • By Monte Olmsted

"Editor’s note: In July 1959, General Mills played a central role in the six-week long American National Exhibition in Moscow, a showcase for U.S. culture that highlighted lifestyle, manufacturing, agriculture, fashion and the arts.

It was the time of the Cold War when the United States and the U.S.S.R. eyed each other with suspicion and distrust, and the exhibition was a chance to debunk myths.

Four General Mills representatives attended this historic event that has become famous for the“Kitchen Debate” between then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Boy, does Betty Crocker really know how to stir up things.

At the height of the Cold War in 1959, General Mills’ iconic homemaker played an instrumental, yet unintended role in the famous “Kitchen Debate” between then-U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the American National Exhibition in Moscow.

That heated discussion on the merits of capitalism versus communism occurred 54 years ago today – July 24 – at Betty Crocker’s temporary model American kitchen, which General Mills would use for baking demonstrations in front of thousands of Muscovites wanting a peek at convenient foods and the lifestyle of an American homemaker.

It was opening day of the six-week long exhibition. The fireworks between the superpowers’ Nixon and Khrushchev were about to begin, but more on that later.

Seven tons of food shipped to Moscow

The American National Exhibition in Moscow represented the country’s first major showcase in the former Soviet Union. The U.S. government, which sponsored the event, wanted Soviet citizens to learn more about America, as well as show off its successes.

The U.S. State Department reached out to several companies to participate, including Disney, General Motors, IBM, Pepsi-Cola, Polaroid, RCA-Whirlpool and General Mills.

General Mills and rival General Foods – now part of Kraft Foods – were two of the largest and best-known food companies when both were asked to collaborate in providing Soviet Russia with a better picture of modern American life.

The Russians would learn about modern convenience foods: cake, cookie and other baking mixes from General Mills and frozen foods from General Foods, all prepared in a model kitchen designed and equipped by RCA-Whirlpool.

Between them, General Mills and General Foods shipped to Moscow more than seven tons of food, including cases of cake mixes, frosting, brownie mixes, Betty Crocker cookbooks and cereal (including Cocoa Puffs and Trix).

Disappearing brownies

For 10 hours every day, the late Marylee Duehring, General Mills’ supervisor of product counselors in the Betty Crocker Kitchens, and Barbara Sampson of General Foods, led a nine-person team that put on demonstrations at the kitchen booth, as well as two daily closed-circuit color television demonstrations with live audiences.

One of 300 Americans who participated, Duehring had enough mixes to make 40 cakes per day to provide samples for the exhibition’s visitors.

Soviet officials, however, prohibited people from tasting the American meals. Instead, they insisted the prepared American food be given to the exhibition’s eating establishments and sold to visitors.

Duehring noted: “The real tragedy is we can’t give them a taste. Once in a while a package or a plate of brownies disappears, much to our delight.”

Still, the food preparers got around this frustrating order. The late Helen Hallbert, General Mills director of Home Service, visited the exhibit for a week and helped with food preparation. After cutting freshly baked cakes, she often turned her back. When Hallbert faced the crowd, the samples were gone.

Said Hallbert: “About 200 Russians would crowd around three sides of the kitchen counter and on the catwalk above the kitchen. A look around at their faces revealed a mixture of disbelief, amazement, curiosity and pleasure. There were many smiling faces,” according to General Mills Archives.

‘Felt like prima donnas’

Many Russians would stand for hours to watch the kitchen team whip up beautiful cakes and pastries. During the fun-filled “pizza pie” demonstrations, some people walked away with tomato sauce-stained faces because they got too close to the product.

The Russians had other weaknesses, too.

They craved anything with chocolate as well as pastel-tinted macaroons, colored icings, cake sprinkles, birthday candles and the colored paper baking cups for muffins. Many of these items occasionally disappeared from the kitchen. The crowds even took the empty packages.

Duehring said that some Russians were so thrilled with the demonstrations that they would stand on the overlooking catwalk and throw flowers to the women in the kitchen. “One day, we got three bouquets and many single roses. We felt just like prima donnas,” she said.

More than 64,000 people flocked each day to the exhibition in Sokolniki Park, a 15-minute subway ride from downtown Moscow. And the six-week attendance tally was 2.7 million. While the overall experience went well for General Mills, there were some glitches.

The Soviets had promised five local women would help in the kitchen and serve as translators. When no one showed up, General Mills had to scramble and enlisted six Russian-speaking women from the British, Pakistani and American embassies in Moscow.

Betty Crocker Moscow

And at times, the test kitchen had no water or electricity and the cement floor crumbled.

The Kitchen Debate

All of that cooking and baking, though, took place after the Kitchen Debate.

What many people don’t realize is that Kitchen Debate was only the climax of earlier discussions between Nixon and Khrushchev. Their frank talk began in the Soviet premier’s office, and continued at the exhibition’s television studios in front of color cameras (see excerpts in this video).

Nixon and Khrushchev eventually made a swift tour of the exhibition.

As they walked through the model American home, Nixon stopped Khrushchev and drew his attention to the kitchen. Here’s where the hour-long exchange occurred, touching on subjects that included washing machines, housing prices, the free exchange of ideas, summit meetings and rockets.

The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Nixon debated with strong words and forceful arguments. But their talk was straightforward and there was no hint of ill feeling in their fast and furious exchange.”

Then General Mills Chairman Gerald “Spike” Kennedy was among the many to witness the Kitchen Debate.

Upon his return to Minneapolis, the executive told the local media: “I never was more proud of anything in my life than when Nixon verbally caught Khrushchev between the eyes.”

Editor’s note: The photo at the top of this post is from the Library of Congress. The General Mills Archives also provided information and images. You can learn more about our past on GeneralMills.com. Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.

Monte Olmsted

Monte Olmsted is a writer in Global Communications at General Mills, based in Minneapolis, Minn. He writes stories for "A Taste of General Mills" and internal company channels. He began his work with General Mills in 2012..."


"Life is short. Live it up. See, do, and hear everything that you can..."
-- Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, on the eve of his 1959 visit
to the United States
2013-10-07 00:31:20 UTC
Post by Gregory Morrow
Yes, that was interesting. Thanks!
Gregory Morrow
2013-10-07 21:56:58 UTC
Post by i***@webtv.net
Post by Gregory Morrow
Yes, that was interesting. Thanks!
Yer welcome. I have always been fascinated by the US - Soviet cultural exchange programs, which started in 1955. we sent them the Harlem Globetrotters and the Boston Symphony, and they sent us the Moiseyev Folk Dancers and Emil Gilels...

Those of us of a "certain age" might remember seeing some of these Soviet exchange artists on Sunday nights on _The Ed Sullivan Show_...

Ths 1959 US National Exhibition in Moscow was the first time Soviets were really "exposed" to Americans, several score young Russian-speaking American guides were recruited by the State Department, and the interactions these guides had with the Soviet visitors was the biggest hit of the Exhibition.

Food-wise, the RCA-Whirlpool $50.000.00 "Kitchen of Tomorrow" was a big deal, it was a Jetsons - style futuristic kitchen that in 2013 is *still* in the future...

When Nixon was showing Khrushchev around the kitchen and the US model home on display (furnished by Macy's, down to the Monopoly game in the living room), Nixon said, "These appliances that you see make life easier for our housewives", to which K replied, "We do not have this capitalistic attitude toward women" [!!!! - LOL...!!!].

If you google "US Exhibition Moscow 1959" you will get all kinds of neat stuff if you are so inclined...also goog "Dior Moscow 1959". As a result of a French - Soviet cultural exchange agreement the House of Dior sent a bevy of chic models to Moscow to show off the latest Paris creations. Many photos of these models were taken in the streets schmoozing with ordinary Russians, the Russians gawping at the models as if they were from outer space (they might as well have been)...

I miss the drama of the old Cold War daze, it was an "interesting" time, that is for sure...