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America's History in the Making

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The Kitchen Debate, 1959

The Kitchen Debate, 1959 Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev U.S. Embassy, Moscow, Soviet Union

[Both men enter kitchen in the American exhibit.]

Nixon: I want to show you this kitchen. It is like those of our houses in California.

[Nixon points to dishwasher.]

Khrushchev: We have such things.

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 Their kitchen is obsolete by that time...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 Some things never get out of date--houses, for instance, and furniture, furnishings--perhaps--but not houses.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.

Nixon: Well, um …

Khrushchev: I hope I have not insulted you.

Nixon: I have been insulted by experts. Everything we say [on the other hand] is in good humor. Always speak frankly …

Courtesy of Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, Ashland, OH, www.teachingamericanhistory.org

Creator Richard M. Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev
Context The "kitchen debate" took place in the context of increased tension between the United States and the Soviet Union at a U.S. trade exhibit in Moscow that featured an American kitchen.
Audience Visitors to the American National Exhibition in Moscow
Purpose In 1959, while touring an American trade exhibition in Moscow, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Vice President Richard Nixon had a heated exchange of words about the merits of capitalism versus communism.

Historical Significance

This was a debate between a capitalist and a communist over which system provided a better material life for its citizens. For Nixon, American freedom amounted to consumer choice, particularly the opportunity for American women in the home to purchase and select the consumer goods of their liking. Nixon grounded his argument in American consumerism and private life--where women were homemakers, alleviated from the drudgery of household chores through modern appliances and technology. Khrushchev argued that capitalists had too many rich and too many poor, but the distribution of wealth was more equitable under socialism. The debate illustrated the heightened tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and added to Vice President Nixon's prestige at home. Nixon returned to the Soviet Union in 1972--this time as president.

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