December 12, 2003: Death of political P.R. man Abbot Washburn, accidental orchestrator of Nixon-Khrushchev “Kitchen Debate”

On this day in 2003, Duluth native Abbot Washburn died in Washington, D.C. Washburn was born in Duluth in 1915, and his grandfather was prominent Duluth attorney and education booster Jed Washburn. Abbot Washburn moved to Minneapolis with his parents in 1929. According to biographer David Ouse, Washburn was deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency from 1953 to 1961. In that role during the Eisenhower administration, he was responsible for the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959 and for encouraging Vice President Richard Nixon to visit the exhibition. It was there that Nixon unexpectedly met with Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev and held what was known as the “kitchen debate” over the technological superiority of their two countries. While the first “debate” began unexpectedly in the kitchen of a model house, there were three more meetings between Nixon and Kruschev. The first of those was in a television studio, as was the last—but the second (and third debate over all) was again held in a model kitchen, this time on purpose. The meetings are considered extraordinary because while they were “discussing which country was superior, they did not compare nuclear weapons, political influence, or control of territories.” There is much more to Abbot Washburn’s life then accidentally orchestrating this infamous Cold War encounter, and you can read about it here.

Abbot Washburn. (Image: Public Domain)