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Program Description: "Revolutionaries"

Nothing was certain about America after the war of independence. It might well have remained a post-colonial backwater, its citizens confined to the east coast of the continent.

How did the country, in less than a century, become a thrusting national market and great power? One secret: American innovators grew to understand that invention wasn't enough. The key to success was in mastering the complex task of bringing a new idea to market.

They Made America's "Revolutionaries" program focuses on four innovators who helped a young nation get up and going -- westward, to settle an entire continent.

John Fitch & Robert Fulton
John Fitch, a self-educated jack-of-all-trades, was convinced that a steam-powered boat could open up the American wilderness and charge the country's growth. His eccentric invention impressed delegates when it was demonstrated at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Commercial success, however, eluded him, and it was left for Robert Fulton to build on his pioneering work and turn the steamboat into a revolutionary innovation.

Robert Fulton, a magnetic artist-businessman, was the prototypical American entrepreneur. His illustrating skills allowed him to present plans that looked as if they were up and running, and his charm enabled him to enlist the support of prominent politicians like Robert Livingston, who was instrumental in America's purchase of Louisiana from France. The combination of Livingston's connections and wealth and Fulton's engineering expertise led to the creation of the first commercially successful steamboat service and the opening of the American continent.

Lewis Tappan
A deeply religious man of extraordinary energy and discipline, Lewis Tappan put his beliefs into practice and cared little what anyone thought. A fervent abolitionist, Tappan used the profits of the highly successful store that he and his brother ran in New York City to further the anti-slavery cause. A recession and boycott eventually led to bankruptcy, but also provided the impetus for the creation of a new business -- credit reporting. Tappan used his network of abolitionist lawyers to report systematically on the credit worthiness of out-of-town retailers who wanted to buy goods in New York. The enterprise, which later became Dun & Bradstreet, offered a reliability to credit that fostered the nation's growth.

Samuel Colt
A hard working, fun loving inventor, Samuel Colt, came up with the idea for a revolving pistol when he was only sixteen, and spent the next fifteen years trying to build a business around it. He finally achieved success when the power of his design became apparent during the Mexican American War. He shrewdly adapted production technology developed in government armories to manufacture his weapons, paving the way for the mass production of more benign goods like the sewing machines, typewriter and car that would become ubiquitous in the emerging consumer society.

page created on 6.30.2004
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