Great Americans in St. Petersburg

The history of Americans in St. Petersburg is book-ended by two revolutions - the American Revolution that ended in 1783 and the October Revolution of 1917. The former saw the young United States, eager to expand its diplomatic contacts, send several talented statesmen to St. Petersburg to woo the Imperial Court, the most famous among them John Quincy Adams. This period also saw the brief Russian career of the great American sea commander John Paul Jones.

The October Revolution and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, meanwhile, not only caused a number of highly talented Russians to emigrate to the Unites States, among them scientists, academics, composers and writers, but also brought to Petrograd a group of idealistic young journalists - among them John Reed, Louise Bryant and Alfred Rhys Williams - who were among the most ardent foreign supporters of the Soviet cause.

While the contribution of emigres Russian scientists to US technology was undoubtedly vast, less celebrated is the contribution that Americans have made to Russian engineering. First, George Washington Whistler was instrumental in the development of Russia's first railways in the 1840s (and his son, the great painter John Abbott McNeill, would later claim St. Petersburg as his birthplace). Then, over a century later, two American-born Soviet spies, Alfred Sarant and Joel Barr, laid the foundations for Soviet microelectronics, working under assumed identities in top-secret Lenigrad laboratories.