50th Anniversary of the American Exhibits to the U.S.S.R.

The exhibits that will be included in this exchange are one of the most effective ways for the average Soviet citizen to learn about our way of life. – President Ronald Reagan, 1985


1989: Crowds outside the American Exhibition in Leningrad. [Photo by Amanda Merullo]
Crowds outside the American Exhibition in Leningrad.

The American Exhibits to the U.S.S.R. were the centerpiece of America’s cultural exchange agreement with the Soviet Union, spanning five decades from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. Beginning with the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, the exhibitions showcased American ingenuity in 87 separate showings of 19 exhibitions across 12 time zones of the U.S.S.R. On display were diverse examples of American technology, from graphic arts to agriculture, outdoor recreation to medicine. The exhibits reached scientists, educators, government leaders, industrial managers, intellectuals, artists and the average worker in some 25 different cities -- from the cosmopolitan centers of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev to the far reaches of Tashkent, Novosibirsk and Vladivostok.


1977: Deputy Director Tom Roberston takes a break during Photography USA. [Photo by Paul Smith, 1977]
Deputy Director Tom Robertson takes a break during Photography USA.

Millions of Soviet citizens saw the exhibitions and enjoyed the opportunity to speak openly with the young Russian-speaking American guides who candidly discussed the basic values and beliefs of American society. Approximately 300 young Americans worked as guides in this historic outreach effort; many have gone on to careers in diplomacy, business, law, academia and the arts where their language skills and overseas experience were considered a plus. Some of their stories are represented on this website.


In 2009, the U.S. Department of State will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the American Exhibitions to the U.S.S.R. and the role they played as the primary cultural outreach to the people of the Soviet Union. The exhibitions magnificently illustrated how cultural exchange can be the starting point for increased understanding and a more constructive relationship between citizens of the world. The rewards of cultural diplomacy were hard won and required the participation of people from all spheres of American life. The 19 exhibitions that toured the U.S.S.R. were only possible through the close cooperation of the former United States Information Agency (USIA), the American private sector, and the intrepid tour guides who brought the exhibits to life.