Richard Nixon and Donald Kendall: Pepsi in Russia and South America
March 11, 2014 11:24 AM   Subscribe

It has been said in half-jest that Pepsi was the official soda of the Cold War. Vice President Richard Nixon shared a Pepsi with Soviet Russia's Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, at the opening of the "American National Exhibition" in Moscow on July 24, 1959, after the famous "Kitchen Debate" (CBS newscast on; transcript with two photos from the day). But how was it that Pepsi was the only Western soda-pop available there that day? Look to Donald Kendall, a long-time pal of Richard Nixon, who starting out in 1947 selling fountain syrup in New York, and rose through the ranks to be President of Pepsi Cola International by 1957.

In the 1940s, Coca-Cola manufactured a clear variant, often called White Coke, at the request of Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov. The drink was clear to allow Zhukov to drink in public without scrutiny, and was not produced for the public. Otherwise, Coca-Cola was a strictly American creation, and formally excluded from the Soviet market until 1985.

As stated in the Radio Free Europe Radio Library article, Coca-Cola was offered the option to take part in the American National Exhibition in '59, but they were one of the many companies that were hesitant to take part due to the Cold War. Don Kendall, representing Pepsi Cola, capitalized on this and his connection to Vice President Nixon, and. he got a Pepsi (or eight) in the hands of Khrushchev. This time, soda was consumed in public and by the public, wit 10,000 cups of cola given away every hour for the whole 42 days of the show. Russians had tasted cola, though it would be another 15 years before Pepsi was distributed in Russia, in trade for Stolichnaya Russian vodka to be sold on the U.S. market.

One tangent before heading on: Opening in Moscow is a 49 minute documentary on the American National Exhibition.

Nixon was out of a job in the beginning of 1961, and he was looking for a lucrative position that would provide him the flexibility to campaign. Kendall helped Nixon land a lucrative law position, offering firm that hired Nixon the Pepsi-Cola account (Google news). When Nixon was president, he appointed Don Kendall as Chairman of the National Alliance of Businessmen in 1969.

The next year, while discussing the terrorist hostage crisis in Amman, Jordan, an internal discussion shifted suddenly to Salvador Allende and the presidency of Chile, the direct result of a plea for action Donald Kendall to save PepsiCo's market in Chile.

But if you take the story farther, you'll find the efforts by JFK and associates to funnel funds into the campaign of Eduardo Frei against Allende. Things get weird if you try to add in the conspiracy theories around Nixon Kendall being involved in re-routing JFK's fatal motorcade tour.
posted by filthy light thief (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Billy Wilder's Cold War farce One, Two, Three is about a Coca-Cola executive trying to push his product into the Eastern Bloc, among other misadventures. It seems particularly of a piece with this post. (It's funny but not his best by a long shot.)
posted by graymouser at 11:49 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

This makes me curious about sodas in the East Bloc. Is there a web site? Reviews?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:39 PM on March 11, 2014

graymouser, thanks for that. I'll check it out.

The last link should read "Nixon and Kendall being involved ..."

Also of weird conspiracy theory rabbit-hole stuff that might be of interest to track down: CIA contract agent Chauncey Holt told Newsweek magazine in 1991 that Pepsi-Cola President Donald Kendall was "considered by the CIA to be the eyes and ears of the CIA" in the Caribbean.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:44 PM on March 11, 2014

I'm enjoying a Diet Wild-Cherry Pepsi while reading this.

posted by blue_beetle at 1:11 PM on March 11, 2014

after the famous "Kitchen Debate"

"I control more countries than you! I get two VP, and: *POKE* *POKE*" (info)
posted by JHarris at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the 1940s, Coca-Cola manufactured a clear variant, often called White Coke, at the request of Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov.

posted by JHarris at 1:36 PM on March 11, 2014

(Which I guess is better than Coke Blue.)
posted by JHarris at 1:37 PM on March 11, 2014

In the 1940s, Coca-Cola manufactured a clear variant, often called White Coke

I heard there was a similarly-named product in various Central and South American countries...
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:58 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

This totally explains the use of Pepsi as a code-word in Spies Like Us. ;)
posted by furious-d at 8:13 PM on March 11, 2014

Best part of this was finding out that (as the widow of Pepsi COB Al Steele, reluctantly permitted on the board after his death) Joan Crawford's nickname for Kendall was "Fang".^

Also, you missed the timely twist (unless it's buried in there) that Putin awarded Kendall with the Russian Order of Friendship.
posted by dhartung at 10:14 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

No, I hadn't seen that Putin gave Kendall that award. Thanks for the link!

And apparently the nickname "Fang" was borrowed from Phyllis Diller (Google books preview of Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography), a fictional spouse Diller used in stand-up bits.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:42 AM on March 12, 2014

Just happened upon this : Moscow theater hostage crisis

In short, Putin used gas to kill 130 hostages along with the 40 hostage takers.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:40 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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