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Khrushchev Visits IBM: A Strange Tale of Silicon Valley History

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Harry McCracken from Fast Company writes about the well-known communist Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to IBM back in 1959.

IBM’s president at the time, Thomas J. Watson Jr.–son of the company’s founder–devoted a lengthy section to the Khrushchev visit in his autobiography, Father, Son & Co: My Life at IBM and Beyond. When he heard of Khrushchev’s planned U.S. trip, he saw an opportunity to leverage it to IBM’s benefit, and sent the premier a wire inviting him to visit any of the company’s plants. He learned that the offer had been accepted when Soviet officials showed up in San Jose to scout things out.

Watson knew that some IBM employees would be unhappy with the notion of the company hosting the leader of the Soviet Union–especially the refugees who the company had hired after Khrushchev crushed the Hungarian revolution in 1956. On factory bulletin boards, the company posted a statement from Watson saying that the visit was not an endorsement of the Khrushchev regime, offering any employee who was irate over the visit two days off with pay.

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