Today in labor history: Ford goes to revolutionary Russia

On May 30, 1929, the Ford Motor Company signed a technical assistance contract to produce cars in the newly industrializing Soviet Union. The agreement included assistance in building a massive auto plant in Nizhny-Novgorod (Gorky), similar to Ford’s famous all-in-one Rouge complex in Dearborn, Mich. Ford workers were sent to the Soviet Union to train the labor force, and 200 Soviet workers came to the United States for training.

American workers who made the trip included Walter Reuther, a tool and die maker who later became the UAW’s president and a Cold War advocate.

Another American, Margaret Wettlin, went to the Soviet Union in 1932 and for a time taught the children of American autoworkers there. She later wrote of her experiences:

“Narrow political prejudices blinded people to the fact that here were two nations similar in that at different times each had been the pioneer of a new way of life; and that here were two peoples similar in that both were born and bred in lands of vast expanses and untold resources.”

Other U.S. companies that signed technical assistance agreements with the new USSR included International Harvester, Pratt and Whitney, Dupont and Caterpillar.

Photo: A 1930 Ford Model A on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich (CC).


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