May 31: Henry Ford cuts a deal with the USSR, and changes world history, on this date in 1929

1931 GAZ AA, based on Ford's Model A truck
1931 GAZ AA, based on Ford's Model A truck

Henry Ford never saw a border that wasn't worth crossing for business, and on this date in 1929, he agreed to start building his cars in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — a bold move, given that the U.S. government hadn't recognized the USSR as a nation yet. Ford thought the best way to prove communism wrong was to show them how well his capitalism worked. Instead, Ford's move did much to save the Soviet Union when it was threatened several decades later by Nazi Germany.

The Soviets named the plant Ford built GAZ, the Russian acronym for "Gorky Automobile Factory," which turned out versions of the Ford Model A and Model AA truck, like the one shown above. GAZ soon expanded to several other cities, and before World War II, the Soviet Union had a sizable automotive industry. As notes, author Douglas Brinkley credits those factories with giving the Soviets vehicles necessary to repel the Germans during World War II, with no other authority than Joseph Stalin himself naming Henry Ford "one of the world's greatest industrialists...may God preserve him."

GAZ remains Russia's largest automaker.

Photo: W. Grabar via Flickr