Krushchev's Visit to Iowa

In September 1959, Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to visit the United States. There was quite a lot riding on his trip, which followed Vice President Richard Nixon’s visit to Moscow and came mere days after a Soviet rocket had successfully reached the moon. Khrushchev was met with a wide range of reactions in the United States. Some Americans cheered for him, others denounced him, and one hotel spokesman who was present for his appearance at a New York City hotel described the applause he received there as “not enthusiastic but friendly – a little better than polite.” [1] His reception at the height of the Cold War was certainly mixed.

Like many visiting heads of state, Khrushchev’s travel plans in the United States focused on major cities – he arrived in Washington DC and visited New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where he was famously upset to learn he would not have the chance to see Disneyland. However, Khrushchev also made a point of visiting the heartland to observe American farming firsthand. Agriculture was of enormous importance to the Soviet economy, but they grew different crops and used different techniques, so Khrushchev went to rural Iowa to learn about American farming methods.

Some Iowans raised concerns about his visit. One Iowan, in a newspaper editorial, wrote that while “a first-hand look at this country and its resources might take some of the cockiness out of him,” such a trip could be risky—for the Soviet leader. The writer thought that Khrushchev was likely to receive a “cynical and cool” welcome from Americans, and it would be difficult to protect him from crowd attacks, in the form of “thrown tomatoes” or worse. [2]

Krushchev touching farmer's stomach

Image 1: Upon seeing this Iowa farmer during his 1959 visit, Khrushchev patted his belly, exclaiming, “Now there’s a real American!” Des Moines Register. View Image Full Size

Other Iowans saw the Soviet leader’s visit to Iowa as the most important part of his trip in the United States. “Communist Khrushchev’s visit to Capitalist Iowa,” wrote George Mills in an article for the Des Moines Sunday Register, “will be the most important part of his American tour from his viewpoint.” Mills cited statements made by Khrushchev about the leader’s interest in American farm production, especially dairy products, milk, and corn, suggesting that Khrushchev would be more interested in what he saw in Iowa than in New York or San Francisco. [3] 

Khrushchev arrived in Iowa on September 22, 1959 and was treated to a reception hosted by Governor Herschel Loveless. The following day, he traveled to Coon Rapids, Iowa, to observe a powerhouse of American farming. He compared what he saw to Soviet-style collective farms, which one Iowa newspaper described as “similar to co-operatives whose members share in the returns.” [4]

While touring the expansive farm of Roswell Garst in Coon Rapids, Khrushchev was fascinated by the hybrid corn Garst had developed in 1930, which allowed for greater crop yields. Garst had been trying to sell corn to the Soviet Union for some time, and had even invited a Soviet delegation to visit his farm a few years earlier. Khrushchev was very impressed that so few farmers could feed so many Americans, but in part he credited the rich Iowa soil, telling his American hosts that “you are an intelligent people… but God has helped you.” He maintained, however, that the Soviet Union’s rapid growth suggested that God was on the side of the Soviets as well. [5] Khrushchev was, of course, joking—he was a staunch atheist.

25,000 Greet Krushchev

Image 2: The front page of the Des Moines Register on September 23, 1959, the day after Khrushchev arrived in Iowa. The photo shows the Soviet leader trying his first hot dog. View Image Full Size

In the days after Khrushchev’s visit to Iowa, Soviet newspapers wrote glowingly of Iowa’s hospitality for their leader, and Iowa newspapers eagerly consumed accounts of the Soviet coverage relayed back to them through international press agencies. The Des Moines Tribune reported that the Soviet daily Pravda told its readers “that there’s an ‘enormous reserve of friendly feeling among Americans for the Soviet Union.” [6] The Ames Daily Tribune similarly quoted an article in the Soviet newspaper Izvestiia stating that Iowans “have contributed no small measure” to what they hoped would be an end to the Cold War, and optimistically concluding that the possibility of cooperation “in all fields of life between the Soviet Union and the United States, was born in the granary of America (Iowa).” [7]

In part, the visit was an important moment in the Cold War because it was the first of its kind. No leader of the Soviet Union had ever visited the United States before, nor had any American president been to the Soviet Union, though Nixon had gone there as vice president. From a diplomatic perspective, it was a major milestone. It also held economic significance and foreshadowed closer cooperation between American farmers and Soviet consumers in the years ahead. While some people in the United States were prepared to meet Khrushchev with angry denunciations and tomatoes ready to throw, others, like Roswell Garst, saw the visit as an opportunity to gain access to Soviet markets. In fact, Khrushchev had been interested in planting more corn in the Soviet Union for years, though the crop never prospered in Soviet fields. While Khrushchev would be removed from power in 1964, his visit laid the groundwork for more open economic and diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union in the decades ahead.

Krushchev Visits the Land Where the Tall Corn Grows

Image 3: An article published in Davenport, Iowa’s Quad-City Times, September 23, 1959. View Image Full Size




  1. “80,000 in New York Unenthused at Nikita Arrival,” Des Moines Tribune, September 17, 1959, 14.
  2. “Khrushchev Visit Would Be Risky,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 1, 1959, 6.
  3. “Iowans Discuss How to Welcome Nikita,” Des Moines Sunday Register, September 6, 1959.
  4. “Russia, Too, Has ‘Capitalist’ Farmers: Nikita,” Carrol Daily Times Herald, September 24, 1959.
  5. “Looks at ‘Heart’ of US,” Globe-Gazette, September 23, 1959.
  6. “Pravda Sees Friendliness for Russia,” Des Moines Tribune, September 23, 1959.
  7. “Press Heaps Praise on Iowa,” Ames Daily Tribune, September 24, 1959.