Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Some stories can't just be told. They must be experienced. Main Navigation Teachers
THEMATIC: Technology:

American Business/Labor  |   Aviation  |   History of Medicine  |   Innovations

Big Dream, Small Screen

Big Dream, Small Screen
A Utah farm boy sketches out the idea for electronic television.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteTeachers Guide

The little known story of Philo T. Farnsworth, a Utah farm boy who first sketched out his idea for electronic television at the age of fourteen. An eccentric genius, Farnsworth spent years battling corporate giants to receive acknowledgment for his invention.
Edison's Miracle of Light

Edison's Miracle of Light
He harnessed electricity and revolutionized the world.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteTeachers Guide

In 1878, Thomas Edison announced his intention to harness Niagara Falls and produce a safe, electric light system. He said he could do it in six weeks. Almost three years later, all the components -- bulbs, sockets, switches, wires, junction boxes -- were finally ready. The "Wizard of Menlo Park" may have revolutionized the world, but he was caught in a web of personal, patent and corporate battles, eventually losing control of the industry he founded.
Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge
The story of how San Francisco built one of the "Seven Wonders of the Modern World."
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

On May 27, 1937, 200,000 people thronged to the newly-completed Golden Gate bridge and walked, climbed, skated or cycled across. After 18 years of struggles to complete the bridge, San Francisco's jubilance was unrestrained. There was a tap dancer, a tuba player and a woman determined to be the first to walk its length with her tongue out.Twenty years earlier, choked off at the tip of a peninsula, San Francisco had faced a future of increased congestion and economic strangulation. Though many in the city longed for a bridge connecting San Francisco to the counties to the north, the obstacles to construction were daunting. It took a hustler and self-promoter, a man who had never designed or overseen the building of a suspension bridge, to take up the challenge. Joseph Strauss spent thirteen years wrangling with local politicians, arguing with the War Department over designs and fighting lawsuits from bridge opponents before he was able to break ground. By the time the bridge was complete, Strauss, his team of designers and his construction crews had built what has since been called one of the "Seven Wonders of the Modern World."
Grand Central

Grand Central
The dramatic story of the construction of New York City's Grand Central Terminal.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

When Grand Central Terminal opened on February 12, 1913, the press heralded it as the greatest railway terminal in the world. By 1947 over sixty-five million people -- the equivalent of forty percent of the population of the United States -- had traveled through the station. Today, it remains one of New York and America's most famous spaces, and a living monument to the nation's great railway age.
Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam
One of the greatest engineering works in history.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

Rising more than 700 feet above the raging waters of the Colorado River, it was called one of the greatest engineering works in history. Hoover Dam, built during the Great Depression, drew men desperate for work to a remote and rugged canyon near Las Vegas. There they struggled against heat, choking dust and perilous heights to build a colossus of concrete that brought electricity and water to millions and transformed the American Southwest.
Influenza 1918

Influenza 1918
The worst epidemic in American history.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers Guide

In September of 1918, soldiers at an army base near Boston suddenly began to die. The cause of death was identified as influenza, but it was unlike any strain ever seen. As the killer virus spread across the country, hospitals overfilled, death carts roamed the streets and helpless city officials dug mass graves. It was the worst epidemic in American history, killing over 600,000 -- until it disappeared as mysteriously as it had begun.
Meltdown at Three Mile Island

Meltdown at Three Mile Island
A series of malfunctions, mistakes, and misinterpretations lead to the country's worst nuclear accident.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteTeachers Guide

At 4:00am on March 28, 1979, a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania suddenly overheated, releasing radioactive gasses. During the ensuing tension-packed week, scientists scrambled to prevent the nightmare of a meltdown, officials rushed in to calm public fears, and thousands of residents fled to emergency shelters. Equipment failure, human error, and bad luck would conspire to create America's worst nuclear accident.
Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore
The story of a temperamental artist and the creation of the world's largest piece of sculpture.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

High on a granite cliff in South Dakota's Black Hills tower the huge carved faces of four American presidents. Together they constitute the world's largest sculpture. The massive tableau inspires awe and bemusement. How, and when, was it carved? Who possessed the audacity to create such a gargantuan work?The story of Mount Rushmore's creation is as bizarre and wonderful as the monument itself. It is the tale of a hyperactive, temperamental artist whose talent and determination propelled the project, even as his ego and obsession threatened to tear it apart. It is the story of hucksterism and hyperbole, of a massive public works project in the midst of an economic depression. And it is the story of dozens of ordinary Americans who suddenly found themselves suspended high on a cliff face with drills and hammers as a sculptor they considered insane directed them in the creation of what some would call a monstrosity and others a masterpiece.
New York Underground

New York Underground
The New York public transportation system -- the largest public works project in history.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteTeachers Guide

It began with the blizzard of 1888 -- mountains of snow twenty feet high, horse cars and omnibuses abandoned, the city paralyzed. There was no doubt New York needed a public transportation system. It would be an American epic -- the largest public works project in history, overshadowed only by the Panama Canal.
New York: The Center of the World

New York: The Center of the World
Postwar New York and the global economic order -- told through the story of the rise, destruction, and afterlife of the World Trade Center.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

The eighth episode of the award-winning series New York: A Documentary Film examines the rise and fall of the World Trade Center -- from its conception in the post-World War II economic boom, through its controversial construction in the 1960s and 1970s, to its tragic demise in the fall of 2001 and extraordinary response of the city in its aftermath.The film presents rare archival footage, including never-before-seen footage of the World Trade Center's architect, Minoru Yamasaki, at work on the project's design in 1962; and extensive interviews with commentators and experts including Guy Tozzoli and Leslie Robertson, the Trade Center's project manager and structural engineer, respectively, who recount firsthand their experience with the project's life and death.Joining them are many of the people who helped make sense of 400 years of New York's history in the first seven episodes of New York: A Documentary Film -- Pete Hamill, Mike Wallace, Robert A. M. Stern and Ada Louise Huxtable among them. The film explores the urban, economic, architectural and symbolic significance of the great towers, their horrific demise, and the ongoing effort to come to terms with their loss.
Race to the Moon

Race to the Moon
The historic journey of Apollo 8 captivated the world during a year marked by assassinations, riots, and war.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

On Christmas Eve 1968, one of the largest audiences in television history tuned in to an extraordinary sight: a live telecast of the moon's surface as seen from Apollo 8, the first manned space flight to leave Earth's gravitational pull and orbit the moon. The historic journey captivated people around the world; many welcomed a technological triumph in space after a year marked by assassinations, riots and war.

As this American Experience production reveals, however, the mission's success was far from assured. The Apollo 8 astronauts had just four months to prepare for the risky lunar orbit, and catastrophic failure would have brought a halt to America's goal of putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

With images and audio never before broadcast, this film recounts the flight many consider to be NASA's most daring and important. Interviews with Apollo 8 astronauts, their wives, mission control staff, and journalists take viewers inside the high-stakes space race of the late 1960s to reveal how a bold decision by NASA administrators put a struggling Apollo program back on track and allowed America to reach the moon before the Soviets.

Rescue at Sea

Rescue at Sea
Wireless telegraphy is used in 1909 to rescue more than 1,500 lives after two ships collide in dense fog.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers Guide

On January 23, 1909, two ships -- one carrying Italian immigrants to New York City, the other, American tourists to Europe -- collided in dense fog off Nantucket Island. In a moment, more than 1,500 lives became dependent on a new technology, wireless telegraphy, and on Jack Binns, a twenty-six-year-old wireless operator on board one of the ships. A story of courage, luck, and heroism at sea. Produced by Ben Loeterman.
Secrets of a Master Builder

Secrets of a Master Builder
How James Eads, one of America's greatest engineers, tamed the mighty Mississippi.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

A self-made man and one of America's greatest engineers, James Buchanan Eads led a life inextricably intertwined with the nation's most important waterway, the Mississippi River. He explored the river bottom in a diving bell of his own design; made a fortune salvaging wrecks; in the 1870s built the world's first steel bridge over the Mississippi at St. Louis; then deepened the river at its mouth, turning New Orleans into the second largest port in the nation. By the time of his death in 1887, Eads was widely acknowledged to be one of the most influential men of his day.

Spy in the Sky (no website available)
The plane provided a high-tech peek behind the Iron Curtain.
More Information

In the spring of 1960, Francis Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Overnight, this top-secret plane became the most famous aircraft in the world. Behind the incident was a team of engineers and pilots who had raced against the clock to design, perfect and deploy a plane which could provide a high-tech peek behind the Iron Curtain.
Streamliners: America's Lost Trains

Streamliners: America's Lost Trains
Sleek designs and revolutionary diesel engines made the U.S. passenger rail system the envy of the world -- but within two decades the era of these supertrains was over.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

On the morning of May 26, 1934, a shimmering silver locomotive pulled out of Denver's Union Station bound for Chicago. The Zephyr was unlike any train seen before. Known as a streamliner for its long, sleek look and powered by a revolutionary compact diesel engine, it would cover 1,015 miles in a record 15 hours. By the1940s, fleets of streamliners crisscrossed the country, making the U.S. passenger rail system the envy of the world. But within two decades the era of these supertrains was over, dozens of routes were discontinued and the cars sold off to Canada and Japan. The dramatic story of the streamliners is one of remarkable achievements and opportunities lost.

Telegrams from the Dead (no website available)
A new religion called spiritualism affects the nation as no other ever had.
More InformationBuy the Video

For 40 years, a new religion called spiritualism affected the nation as no other ever had. Abraham Lincoln, P.T. Barnum, Frederick Douglass, senators, and scientists argued over the discoveries of the spirit world as revealed through mediums. Congress debated whether to provide $40,000 to research the feasibility of using the new wireless technology to reach the other world. But by 1880, as one spectacular fraud after another was revealed, the movement began to fade.
Test Tube Babies

Test Tube Babies
The pioneering researchers in the effort to conceive babies through in vitro fertilization faced daunting obstacles and much controversy before the world's first test tube baby was born on July 25, 1978.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the Video

She was described in the press as the "Baby of the Century." When Louise Brown, the world's first successful test tube baby, was born in Great Britain on July 25, 1978, the event was heralded as the beginning of a technological revolution in human reproduction. It was also the culmination of a decade-long effort involving scientists on both sides of the Atlantic to conceive babies through in vitro fertilization, or IVF. This AMERICAN EXPERIENCE production interweaves the story of two doctors, the renowned New York gynecologist Landrum Shettles and the British physiologist Robert Edwards. Haunted by the fear that their laboratory interventions in the natural fertilization process would create malformations in the embryo, these pioneering researchers faced a slew of daunting obstacles. Colleagues were reluctant to collaborate on work they deemed too controversial and government agencies refused to fund their research, believing testing IVF on humans was premature. As they forged ahead, Shettles and Edwards met with fierce cultural opposition. The Catholic Church excoriated them for taking ńthe LordÍs work into their own hands,î and their work became the locus of debate over the limits of science and a precursor of the current debate over cloning and stem cell research.
The Alaska Pipeline

The Alaska Pipeline
An 800-mile pipeline transports crude from the largest oil field in North America. Native Alaskans, oil company representatives, environmentalists, geologists, politicians, and others tell the story of its construction.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

The pipeline built to bring North Slope oil to market was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. For more than three years, workers battled brutal Arctic weather to construct an eight hundred mile pipeline that traversed three mountain ranges, thirty-four rivers, and eight hundred streams, and that withstood earthquakes and sub-zero temperatures. The men, machines and money the pipeline brought to Alaska would forever transform what had long been regarded as America's last great wilderness. The pipeline's construction pitted America's need for energy against its desire to protect land and wildlife, sparking one of the most passionate conservation battles in American history.
The Great Fever

The Great Fever
In 1900 Major Walter Reed and his medical team prove that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes. The eradication of the disease that had terrorized the U.S. for centuries began with an aggressive public health campaign to rid the city of New Orleans of m
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

In June 1900, Major Walter Reed, Chief Surgeon of the U.S. Army, led a medical team to Cuba on a mission to investigate yellow fever. For more than two hundred years the disease had terrorized the United States, killing an estimated 100,000 people in the nineteenth century alone. Shortly after Reed and his team arrived in Havana they began testing the radical theories of Carlos Finlay, a Cuban doctor who believed that mosquitoes spread yellow fever. This AMERICAN EXPERIENCE production documents the heroic efforts of Reed's medical team, some of whom put their own lives on the line to verify Finlay's theory. Eventually, their discovery enabled the United States to successfully eradicate the disease among workers constructing the Panama Canal, making possible the completion of one of the most strategic waterways in the world. When yellow fever struck New Orleans in 1905, an aggressive mosquito eradication campaign successfully ended the epidemic. It was the last yellow fever outbreak in the United States, and the first major public health triumph of the 20th century.
The Great Transatlantic Cable

The Great Transatlantic Cable
The laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable -- an underwater communications link between North America and Europe -- is a remarkable story of mid-19th century ingenuity and perseverance.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

This American Experience production tells the remarkable story behind the laying of the transatlantic cable. By the middle of the 19th century, a network of telegraph poles strung across America had changed the way the country did business. Samuel Morse's invention made possible almost instantaneous communication between cities across the continent. Communicating with Europe was another matter. Messages to London were sent the old-fashioned way, aboard sailing ships that could take weeks to reach their destination.

Though the need for a transatlantic cable was obvious, the physical challenges to laying one were enormous. The project would require the production of a 2,000 mile long cable that would have to be laid three miles beneath the Atlantic. Cyrus Field, an energetic, young New York paper manufacturer, wasn't deterred. And once he started the endeavor, he wouldn't give up. It took twelve years of cajoling and massaging investors, several abortive attempts to lay the cable, and millions of wasted dollars before Field and his team of engineers finally succeeded. On July 27, 1866, when the wire was finally in place, Field sent back the first message to Europe: "Thank God," he wrote, "the Cable is Laid." Since that day, almost 140 years ago, nothing has broken his communications link with Europe -- not storms, earthquakes or world wars.

The Iron Road

The Iron Road
The story of the transcontinental railroad.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers Guide

A tale of high adventure, enormous human effort and engineering brilliance. On May 2, 1869, when the last railroad spike was driven, bells in the churches of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Omaha and St. Louis rang in celebration. Six years in the making, the transcontinental railroad captured the imagination of the nation, symbolizing unification of the country after five years of Civil War.
The Living Weapon

The Living Weapon
This film examines the international race to develop biological weapons in the 1940s and 1950s, revealing the scientific and technical challenges scientists faced and the moral dilemmas posed by their eventual success.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

In early 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt received an alarming intelligence report: Germany and Japan were developing biological weapons for potential offensive use. In response, the U.S. and its allies rushed to develop their own germ warfare program, enlisting some of America's most promising scientists in the effort. This AMERICAN EXPERIENCE production examines the international race to develop biological weapons in the 1940s and 1950s, revealing the scientific and technical challenges scientists faced and the moral dilemmas posed by their eventual success. As America's germ warfare program expanded during the Cold War, scientists began to conduct their own covert tests on human volunteers. The United States continued the development and stockpiling of biological weapons until President Nixon terminated the program in 1969. "Biological weapons have massive, unpredictable, and potentially uncontrollable consequences," he told the nation. "Mankind already carries in its hands too many of the seeds of its own destruction."
The Pill

The Pill
The story behind the development of the drug that put women in control of birth control.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

In May 1960, the FDA approved the sale of a pill that arguably would have a greater impact on American culture than any other drug in the nation's history. For women across the country, the contraceptive pill was liberating: it allowed them to pursue careers, fueled the feminist and pro-choice movements and encouraged more open attitudes towards sex. Among the key players in the development of the drug were two elderly female activists who demanded a contraceptive women could eat like aspirin and then paid for the scientific research; a devout Catholic gynecologist who believed a robust sex life made for a good marriage and argued tirelessly that the Pill was a natural form of birth control; and a brilliant biologist who bullied a pharmaceutical company into risking a possibly crippling boycott to develop this revolutionary contraceptive. In describing the obstacles they all hurdled, The Pill presents a compelling account of a society in transition.

The Radio Priest (no website available)
Father Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest from Michigan, uses the new power of radio to become one of the first media stars.
More Information

Father Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest from Michigan, uses the new power of radio to become one of the first media stars; every Sunday he would broadcast his message railing against the nation's economic and social system to millions of listeners caught in the grip of the Depression.

The Satellite Sky (no website available)
A uniquely impressionistic history of the early years of the Space Race.
More Information

Few events shocked America more than the news in 1957 that Russia had launched the first satellite. It was an assault on our national pride, even a threat to national security. Using news reels, commercials, television shows, government films, and science fiction movies, the film presents a uniquely impressionistic history of the early years of the Space Race.
The Telephone

The Telephone
The birth of the device that transformed American life.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteTeachers Guide

At first rented only "to persons of good breeding, " seen as an expensive luxury for doctors and businessmen, within a decade the telephone had begun to transform American life. Trees gave way to telephone poles as operators known as "hello girls" began to connect a sprawling continent.
The Wizard of Photography

The Wizard of Photography
He transformed photography -- and the way people view the world.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers Guide

With his introduction of the popular Kodak and Brownie camera systems, George Eastman revolutionized the photographic industry, transforming a complex, expensive technology used by a small professional elite into one that anyone could use. A brilliant innovator and entrepreneur, Eastman changed the way people viewed time and the world around them -- and even themselves.
The Wright Stuff

The Wright Stuff
Wilbur and Orville Wright build the flying machine.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the Video

Theirs is a quintessential American story of two midwestern boys who believed they could break the barrier of the air, succeeding where others with government grants and engineering educations had failed. Their remarkable breakthroughs in design and engineering shaped the course of the twentieth century.
Transcontinental Railroad

Transcontinental Railroad
Ingenious entrepreneurs, brilliant engineers, armies of workers, and Native Americans figure in the remarkable story of how a railroad was built connecting California to the East.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah, a boisterous crowd gathered to witness the completion of one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century: the building of the transcontinental railroad. The electrifying moment -- the realization of a dream first pursued by a farsighted and determined engineer decades earlier -- marked the culmination of six years of grueling work. Peopled by the ingenious entrepreneurs whose unscrupulous financing got the line laid, the brilliant engineers who charted the railroad's course and hurdled the geological obstacles in its way, the armies of workers who labored relentlessly on the enterprise, and the Native Americans whose lives were destroyed in its wake, Transcontinental Railroad is a remarkable story of greed, innovation and gritty determination. It reveals both why the railroad was built and how it would shape the nation, while shedding light on the politics and culture of mid-nineteenth century America.
Tupperware!

Tupperware!
The plastic food container that became a phenomenally successful business -- and an American cultural icon.
More InformationLaunch Web SiteBuy the VideoTeachers GuideWatch the Promo

Tupperware is a household word not just in America, but around the world. This one-hour film looks at why a plastic food container has become not only one of the world's most ubiquitous products but a cultural icon. At the center of the narrative are two dynamic, quirky characters: the ambitious but reclusive Earl Tupper, who invented Tupperware, and his flamboyant female business associate, Brownie Wise, who figured out how to sell it. Working side by side, Tupper and Wise built an empire, creating a business model that has since been copied by all well-known direct sales companies.Using interviews with Tupperware executives and dealers from the early days and wonderful, little-seen company footage of Tupperware Jubilees, this funny, probing program re-examines assumptions about American culture in the 1950s.
THEMATIC: Technology:

American Business/Labor  |   Aviation  |   History of Medicine  |   Innovations

Who We Are Schedule Archives Kids Teachers Contact Us Shop