Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mr. McClellan Goes to the Fair

Photo: Courtesy Dan Slobin

Harold C. “Chad” McClellan was, by all accounts, the right man, at the right time, in the right place. President Eisenhower chose McClellan to serve as the general manager of the American exhibition in Moscow, reportedly commenting at a meeting “If anyone can do it, Chad McClellan is that man.”

McClellan was already a widely respected business leader and government executive when he was called upon by the White House to lead the U.S. effort. A past president of the National Manufacturers Association, and head of the Old Colony Paint and Chemical Company, McClellan was Assistant Secretary of Commerce in 1958, with wide-ranging responsibilities including for international trade fairs.

As Amb. Gilbert A. Robinson, a former Commerce aide to McClellan, commented recently, “He was an incredible negotiator...Time and again, I saw him stand up to the Soviet pressure, to go ahead and be correct when he needed to and he got them to cooperate. Without the cooperation of the people who wanted the exhibition to succeed, it never would have been done.” McClellan, he emphasized, “was the kind of public servant that you really wanted, whether Democrat or Republican...”

Later, as a top figure in the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, McClellan played an important part in bringing the Dodgers to the West Coast and in spearheading the “Management Council for Merit Employment and Training,” an innovative private sector economic recovery effort in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots.

In his unpublished 1969 memoir of the Moscow exhibition, entitled “Russia Goes to the Fair,” McClellan wrote:

“...The role I carried in managing the Exhibition proved to be the most exciting, difficult and frustrating experience of my life; yet it was in the end the most rewarding. During the fifteen months in which I was engaged with the project, every single day offered some element of surprise and trouble. Time and again there were crises to be met which made the ‘Perils of Pauline’ seem to me mere bedtime stories.”

McClellan’s role was vital. His memoir is a key component of the historical record about the preparations for the Sokolniki exhibition (including the behind-the-scenes politics of building governmental and private sector support in the U.S.) as well as the challenges of finishing in time for the high-profile, high-stakes official opening on July 24.

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