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They Made America cover photo

They Made America 2004

Not Recommended

Distributed by WGBH Boston, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134; 617-300-2000
Produced by Linda Garmon
Directed by Linda Garmon
DVD, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - Adult
American Studies, Biography, Business, History, Technology

Date Entered: 02/10/2005

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Characterized by high quality research and presentation that viewers have come to expect from productions by PBS and Boston television channel, WGBH, this four-part series profiles the lives of twelve Americans whose ingenuity influenced society both at home and abroad. Based on journalist and editor Harold Evans’ book by the same title and funded by corporate sponsors and private foundations, the program is designed to show how American resourcefulness and business enterprise changed the face of the world during the past two hundred years. Classified in the categories of Rebels, Revolutionaries, Newcomers, and Gamblers, some of these innovators are familiar, as with CNN founder Ted Turner and steamboat inventor Robert Fulton; others have less name recognition, such as Samuel Insull, Juan Trippe, and Ruth Handler. These are the individual stories of persistence and entrepreneurship, that when combined with new technologies, led to the founding of the Bank of America, PanAm Airlines, Dun & Bradstreet, Colt Manufacturing, Maidenform, and the transformation of Mattel Toys.

Narrated by actor David Ogden Stiers, using archival photography and newsreel footage as well as live-action dramatization, the series is available in both VHS and DVD format. Extra features on the DVD include a look behind the scenes, a scene selection guide, closed captions and described video for hearing and visually impaired viewers, and educators materials.

Although the stories presented are interesting and production qualities are top-notch, this documentary-style edutainment is heavily weighted towards big business and, with a couple of exceptions, the predominantly male caucasians that made it happen. Marketed as educational tool, They Made America lacks an objective cultural and historical perspective. Its overall tone and message that technology and business are irrefutably positive forces in society and that innovation and inventiveness are uniquely American qualities is lopsided. Not recommended.