The places Soviet tourists could not visit in the 1950s

Apparently, there were some private citizens from the USSR who were allowed into the U.S. for travel during the Cold War. But they couldn't just visit anywhere they wanted.

This map, from a post at Slate's Vault blog, shows the no-go zones, shaded in green. Some of this is quite funny — gee, guys, I wonder what you're keeping hidden out in rural Nevada? Another interesting point: Soviets could visit Kansas City, Kansas, but not Kansas City, Missouri. Which could just be a pretty good joke, on our part. The fun stuff is all on the Missouri side.

EDIT: In the original version of this post, I'd mentioned that Kansas had once been home to many, many missile silos, and speculated that this might be why so much of that state (and the Dakotas) was off-limits to Soviet travelers. But, Cold War historian Audra J. Wolfe contacted me and pointed out that there were no missile silos at the time this map was made, because there were no Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. So why ban the Ruskies from Kansas? Wolfe isn't entirely sure. She speculated that it might have had something to do with limiting access to public lands managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Land Management. It also could have been tied to the presence of Strategic Air Command bases in the state. And there were tons of Atomic Energy Commission-owned sites scattered all over the U.S. — it's hard to keep track of where they all were.

Of course, Wolfe also said that there wasn't always a clear logic behind the decisions about which parts of the country were made off-limits to Soviet citizens. For instance, much of our coastline was off-limits for no other reason than the fact that much of the Soviet coast was off-limits to Americans. "The main premise is 'strict reciprocity'," she wrote in a message to me. "X% of Soviet coasts are off-limits, therefore x% of US coasts are off-limits, too." So there, one might add.


  1. At first I was like, “why were they banned from going to Long Island?” Then I realized that Long Island and Connecticut must have been off limits presumably because there was (is?) a big submarine base and Navy shipbuilding facilities in CT on the LI Sound.

    1. Grumman was the largest corporate employer in Long Island during the cold war.  They were mostly into Navy planes back then, although a decade later, they were building Apollo LEMs.

  2. I grew up in Kansas in the zone closed to travel.  That part of Kansas during this time period, and up into the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, was home to numerous missle silos.  There was one about 10 miles from my hometown in rural KS, and others throughout the region.  I believe that they are all now decomissioned.  I’m sure that’s the reason for that particular travel restriction.

    1. Missouri = {St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia}
      Missoura ≠ Missouri
      Misery = {Missouri, Missoura}

    1.  Why would that be frightening?  I’d think it more frightening to know you are in a major target zone and there is not even an attempt at defense.

      1. True enough.  Though even the attempt was pretty much obviated by the development of ICBMs.

      2. Being fairly close to the center of North America(and thus maximum intercept time over friendly territory against bomber groups) is probably about as much ‘defense’ as was ever available during hypothetical WWIII… If SAGE was going to work for any major American city, it was probably Chicago, and ICBMs have no reasonably effective countermeasure to the present day.

    2. I consider myself a student of Cold War stuff like this, but evidently I need to read up on Nike sites, because I had *no idea* there were that many around Chicago.

  3. I’m a little disappointed that only a small part of eastern Iowa is off-limits. The story of Kruschev meeting Roswell Garst and visiting his farm has always tickled me, and I think it would have taken on an extra level of funniness if it were in an area that was off-limits to Soviet tourists. 

  4. Looks like Hollywood was on the OK list!

    Was that to try and trap guileless movie people taking visits??!

    1. But it looks like Anaheim/Disneyland was off-limits. Thank Buddha that the Russkis never got their hands on our Haunted Mansion secrets or the true enchantments of the Enchanted Tiki room.

      1. Perhaps, if they found out what a small world it is, after all, they would have been encouraged to invade.

  5. The shores of Lake Superior???
    There must have been a couple violations, since every once in a while a sailor would jump off a Soviet freighter in Duluth, MN and ask for asylum.

    1. Probably the freighters were there as “business” that was officially approved and not “tourists.”

    2.  The St. Lawrence Seaway wasn’t completed until 1959.  Prior to then, one wouldn’t expect to see Soviet sailors in Duluth.

  6. Someone should do a modern remix of this map, areas forbidden to american citizens. Maybe with an overlay for areas you’ll get hassled by the police for using a camera. 

  7. I thought the same thing. Though MD was mostly a) outside of the city and b) located in an area of an airport that was more military than civilian in 1955 (though it did have some civilian flights). It wasn’t until the following year that a passenger terminal was built at Lambert.

      1.  I believe we’re working on that now…. at least the “papers please” part. Since you now need documentation to travel internally in the US in a plane…

        1. A better example of “papers, please” would be the anti-immigrant laws passed by certain states, since not having the right documents can get people locked up instead.

          I actually can’t think of a good reason to intentionally make maps with the wrong street layout, especially decades after establishing yourself as a global super-power.

      2. Then how do you explain Demonreach not showing up on maps of Lake Michigan?

  8. Some of the banned places are likely banned too because of CPUSA activities in the area. Birmingham, Memphis, and Atlanta strike me as likely possibilities for that reason, since the civil rights struggles in that period often had leadership with current or former ties to the CPUSA (Bayard Rustin is the only person springing to mind at the moment, though I think the Scottsboro Boys received legal aid from the CPUSA).

    1. Huh, that makes sense. The only thing I could think of is that Birmingham was a major industrial center for steel production and was thus a potential target during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My parents went to school in Birmingham and were heavily drilled in civil defense because of that. Your explanation makes a lot more sense.

      I really wonder about Gadsden, though! Anniston had the army depot full of unexploded ordinance, but I’m not sure what could be in Gadsden that wasn’t in most other Alabama cities.

      1. A number of other banned-but-why-the-fuck-would-you-care places, like my hometown of Johnstown, PA, were also major steel centers in the 1950s.

        Beating the US at steel production was something that Stalin had, to use the technical term, a huge boner for. So whether or not this would have kept any actual Soviet spy out of our steel mills, that does seem to be the rationale.

    2. I think it’s more likely the local nuclear power complexs in the area, more than Rustin. After all, post war, pretty much all of the more mainstream Civil Rights organizations purged their more radical members. Rustin himself, I think renounced his ties with Communists, and I don’t think he was every officially a communist, but a fellow traveler). 

      Maybe there were also  support centers for Oak ridge, which is north of Chattanooga?

      But yeah, Birmingham and Atlanta were major industrial centers in the South, so it’s more that, I think than ties to communism.

      1. In general, if memory serves, the whole Jim Crow thing was used as a major propaganda point against us. (And rightly so.) It might have just been an attempt to keep prying eyes away from social stuff we didn’t want to talk about. 

  9. At the time of the map it actually was the home of  just plain old McDonnell Aircraft.  They didn’t merge with the Douglas Aircraft Company until 1967.  McDonnell was making military hardware though, so this is pedantry that doesn’t affect your point. :)

  10. I grew up just across the border from SD in NW IA.  We had three Soviet exchange students (through the FFA program my grandparents were involved in) stay at our farm during the summer of circa 1988/9.  I wonder if the restrictions were still in place, because we almost certainly took them to Sioux Falls for restaurants/shopping/etc.  The missile silos didn’t really start to get thick on (in?) the ground until you got more west-river…

    1.  I bet at least some of these restrictions were out the door during Detente (late 60s/70s),  and I tihink by 88-89, things were probably pretty wide open (what with Perestroika and Glastnost). This map is from 55, so things were pretty tense (though it’s  drop off, post-Stalin, but it’s about to spike again, with the Kennedy administration).

  11. You can tell this is a pre-60s map because the east half of North Dakota isn’t restricted.  SAC based B-52s at Grand Forks in ’58, and then in ’65 they started getting Minuteman IIs and the Safeguard ABM install starting in ’67.

  12. Too bad about San Francisco. But at least they had Oregon. The best of part of the United States is Oregon, anyway.

    1.  The City itself is open (it’s marked by an open circle) – only the surrounding areas are proscribed. Of course, since SFO is nine miles outside the city limits, getting from there to Market Street might pose a problem – maybe they had to land at Crissy Field?

  13.  It’s not surprising KC, MO is closed to Soviet nationals – the giant GSA facility there manufactured most of our nuclear warheads. Why KC, KS is open is beyond me.

    1.  Also in KCMO:

      Federal Reserve
      IRS Building
      Those underground storage sites

      Nowhere near an inclusive list, of course…

    2. I believe the KC plant produced the non-nuclear components.  The nuclear materials themselves at that time were produced in other locations.

  14. The part of Montana that is off-limits had no silos.  The part of Montana that was full of missile silos and a major air force base is open and good to go.  Makes no sense. 

    1. Possibly…. having a map that shows exactly where the sensitive areas are wasn’t considered a good thing.

    1. MA did a nontrivial amount of the American work on radar during WWII and never stopped doing more military contracting and R&D than its reputation might suggest. I don’t know why Somerville, specifically, was picked; but they probably didn’t want commies skulking around Lincoln labs…

    2. is open.  The rest of Massachusetts (other than the specifically named cities) is closed.

  15. Kansas City, Kansas is marked with an open dot on the map, indicating that it is open to Soviet nationals. Kansas City, MO is marked with a solid dot, indicating it is closed to Soviet nationals.

    So the situation was the opposite of what the writer of the article stated.

  16. The wide crescent that starts at about the Quad Cities in Illinois/Iowa and goes south along the Mississippi, includes a big chunk of the lower Ohio River, and then into Tennessee, intrigues me. I was thinking that it was a combination of the river lock/dam system and Oak Ridge, but I wonder if maybe part of it has to do with the New Madrid fault? 

    1. I think if I were drawing up a map like this, I would add some areas as off limits just as honeypots. Decoys so that the Soviets would be led astray.

      Er, that doesn’t mean that this is the case, you realise.

  17. Some of it was politics also.  The Soviets had many and complex and frequently changing rules about where American tourists could and could not go and some of ours were in response to those.

    For an intruiging view on visiting Soviet Russia check out that section of Tramp Royale by Robert Heinlein.

  18. I wonder what was in Steubenville that the government didn’t want USSR citizens to see.

    Maybe the whole high school football players raping unconscious girls thing goes back quite a bit further than we thought it did?

  19.  ” I wonder what you’re keeping hidden out in rural Nevada?”
    That area of Nevada covers Nellis Air Force base, Area 51 and the Nuclear test range at Tonopah.

  20. As others have mentioned or alluded to, a lot of these locations were probably due to the presence of nuclear weapons development/production infrastructure.  There were many of those facilities in operation in the mid-50s.  Here’s a link to a list compiled by the Brookings Insitution:

    One such site is the Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas, where basically all the US’s nuclear weapons have been assembled since the early 1950s.  It’s probably the reason the entire Texas Panhandle is off-limits.

    1. Yup, you’re right.  The first thing I thought of when I saw the map was nuclear production facilities.  

      Hanford in Washington is coverd, so is Savana River in South Carolina.  The INEL in Idaho is off limits along with Rocky Flats in Colorado, Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico, Oak Ridge in Tennessee, Mound and Fernald in Ohio, Argonne in Illinois, Brookhaven on Long Island in New York,  Lawrence Livermore in California.  They probably put a large area on the map to make it harder to pinpoint were all the atom bombs were coming from.

  21. If I were making this map, one of my concerns would be that the Soviets might get ahold of it, in which case it would be the “Here’s Where We’ve Located All Our Interesting Stuff” map.  Thus I would definitely add in some areas of no concern, just to keep it vague.

  22. Sorry, most of New Jersey is off limits. But you can visit Elizabeth, Trenton, and Camden! (also Atlantic City)

  23. A lot of this “denied area” stuff was rather arbitrary. There were the obvious denied areas of military and industrial interest, but a lot of things were off limits in the old USSR, so we had a lot of things off limits in the USA. The classic was Kruschev being denied access to Disneyland. He had to make do with a trip to Freedomland in the Bronx. (Actually, Freedomland was pretty neat. I think it’s Coop City or something like that these days.)

  24. It’s ok. They can still go to Arkansas and Mississippi. The trip won’t be a total bust.

  25. Well…it is obvious to me why Spokane and areas around it were off limits.  Spokane was surrounded by missile bases.  Then there is Hanford, INEEL and multiple radar bases in the mountains of Idaho.  I am not sure if Fairchild was built when this map was done but I assume so.

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