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They Made America


They Made America: Behind the Scenes HV (home video) Master Bonus content for DVD

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They Made America
Series Description

The extraordinary innovators whose ideas and entrepreneurial spirit gave birth to landmark advances like the steamboat and the 747 jetliner, and cultural touchstones like the Barbie doll and 24-hour CNN, are profiled in THEY MADE AMERICA, a new four-part series from the producers of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. THEY MADE AMERICA examines America’s evolution over two centuries, from the infancy of the country to its growth as an industrial power through its global reach today. THEY MADE AMERICA is based on a new book by renowned editor and journalist Harold Evans, whose commentary is featured in the series. Evans, author of the best-selling The American Century, notes that the series is topical as well as historical: “The universality of THEY MADE AMERICA is pertinent to the role of innovation for the next generation as well as for the past.”

Rebels - 101 The first episode profiles two present-day magnates who have built bridges to different communities and countries through today's dominant American exports: information and entertainment. Russell Simmons has created a multimillion-dollar empire and an international following through rap music and hip-hop culture, once the sole province of inner-city America. Ted Turner turned a lens on the world with CNN, a 24-hour news station launched in 1982 - and destined for failure, predicted most news executives. But like all innovators, he didn't listen to the naysayers. Revolutionaries - 102 The second episode highlights pioneering thinkers like John Fitch, who committed suicide before his eccentric invention, a steam-powered boat, transformed the commerce of a young nation, thanks to Robert Fulton's salesmanship and zeal. Lewis Tappan used the profits of a successful store that he and his brother ran in New York City to further the anti-slavery cause. Then, after the business went bankrupt, he used his network of abolitionist lawyers to systematically report on the credit worthiness of out-of-town retailers who wanted to buy in New York - an enterprise that later became Dun & Bradstreet. Newcomers - 103 The third episode focuses on immigrants to America, their diligence and desires, and the often harsh reality of their lives. The success stories among them imbued whole communities with pride in the face of rampant prejudice. When Amadeo Giannini's idea - a bank that gave working people a chance to secure and earn from their savings - blossomed into Bank of America, the largest private bank in the world, many shared the wealth. Also uplifting is the story of a Russian seamstress who became a lingerie tycoon. With the creation of Maidenform, Ida Rosenthal mass-produced a bra that was the perfect fit for the new American working woman at the beginning of the 20th century. Gamblers - 104 follows the risk-takers whose innovations became global icons in the second half of the 20th century. Every passenger whisking across continents today can thank Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan Am, who brought the world into the jet age in the late 1950s by pushing Boeing and Pratt & Whitney to design a plane that would carry 200 people across the Atlantic Ocean in less than seven hours. The 707 made the world smaller, but it was an 11-inch plastic doll, Barbie, that would become one of America’s most powerful symbols abroad. Created by Ruth Handler in 1959, Barbie is now sold in 150 countries at a rate of two dolls per second. “The success of the Barbie doll is in the fact that it’s not a static toy,” says Evans. “It has infinite possibilities — and this versatility, this endless appeal, is very similar to many engineering innovations.”

Series release date: 11/2004



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Broadcast program

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Charlson, Carl (Series Producer)
Chicago: “They Made America,” 08/24/2004, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed December 13, 2018, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_15BF0821425248BEB55E144763D0887F.
MLA: “They Made America.” 08/24/2004. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. December 13, 2018. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_15BF0821425248BEB55E144763D0887F>.
APA: They Made America. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_15BF0821425248BEB55E144763D0887F
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