The 1959 Kitchen Debate: How Little Things Have Changed

University of Virginia/Public Domain

On July 24, 1959, American Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev had a debate in a model kitchen at a Moscow trade show. Nixon boasted of the consumer tech like dishwashers; Krushchev complained about American materialism. After Nixon described yet another labor saving appliance, Krushchev satirically asked if there was a machine that "puts food into the mouth and pushes it down". I will be called a commie yet again, but I like Krushchev's attitude:

Nixon: This is our newest model. This is the kind which is built in thousands of units for direct installations in the houses. In America, we like to make life easier for women...

Khrushchev: Your capitalistic attitude toward women does not occur under Communism.

Nixon: I think that this attitude towards women is universal. What we want to do, is make life more easy for our housewives.....

Nixon: This house can be bought for $14,000, and most American [veterans from World War II] can buy a home in the bracket of $10,000 to $15,000. Let me give you an example that you can appreciate. Our steel workers as you know, are now on strike. But any steel worker could buy this house. They earn $3 an hour. This house costs about $100 a month to buy on a contract running 25 to 30 years.

Khrushchev: We have steel workers and peasants who can afford to spend $14,000 for a house. Your American houses are built to last only 20 years so builders could sell new houses at the end. We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren.

Nixon: American houses last for more than 20 years, but, even so, after twenty years, many Americans want a new house or a new kitchen. Their kitchen is obsolete by that time....The American system is designed to take advantage of new inventions and new techniques.

Khrushchev: This theory does not hold water. Some things never get out of date--houses,for instance, and furniture, furnishings--perhaps--but not houses. I have read much about America and American houses, and I do not think that this is exhibit and what you say is strictly accurate.

From Teaching American History. I was surprised to learn that this famous model kitchen was designed by Andrew Geller, then working with Raymond Loewy. The late architect is known to TreeHugger as the Architect of Happiness.

Tags: Kitchens | Russia | Wayback Machine

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