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American Experience is TV's most-watched history series and brings to life the compelling stories from our past that inform our understanding of the world today.
Robert Ripley's obsession with the odd and keen eye for the curious made him one of the most successful men in America during the Great Depression, transforming himself from a skinny loner into a flashy entertainer who presented to the nation a blend of freakish oddities, colorful exotica, and homespun Americana. Over three decades, his Believe It or Not! franchise grew into an entertainment empire, expanding from newspapers to radio, film and, ultimately, television. Americans not only loved his bizarre fare, but were fascinated by the man himself, and the eccentric, globetrotting playboy became an unlikely national celebrity. This is the story of the man who popularized the iconic phrase, and proof of why we still can't resist his challenge to "Believe it — or not!"
In the 1960s, North Carolina's KKK membership grew to some ten thousand members, earning the state a new nickname: "Klansville, U.S.A."
By the time he died in 1931, Thomas Edison was one of the most famous men in the world. The holder of more patents than any other inventor in history, Edison had amassed a fortune and achieved glory as the genius behind such revolutionary inventions as sound recording, motion pictures, and electric light. When Edison died on October 18, he lay in state for two days in the library of his West Orange complex, as thousands of people lined up to pay their final respects. On the third night, at the request of President Herbert Hoover, radio listeners across the country switched off their lights as a reminder of what life would have been like without Edison.
Edison explores the complex alchemy that accounts for the enduring celebrity of America's most famous inventor, offering new perspectives on the man and his milieu, and illuminating not only the true nature of invention, but its role in turn-of-the-century America's rush into the future.
In the spring of 1905, the first group of fresh-faced graduates of Yale's Forestry School began to arrive in the bawdy frontier towns of the West. These first employees of the Forest Service were given the monumental task of managing the newly created national forests in the Northern Rockies. Nothing could have prepared them for the severity of the drought there in 1910. Hundreds of wildfires broke out continually and were fought by the rookie rangers as best they could. In mid-August, the particularly destructive fire season hit its peak: in just 36 hours, a firestorm burned more than three million acres and killed at least 78 firefighters, confronting the fledgling U.S. Forest Service with a catastrophe that would define the agency and the nation's fire policy for much of the twentieth century. It was the largest fire in American history.
Inspired by Timothy Egan's best-selling book, "The Big Burn" provides a cautionary tale of heroism and sacrifice, arrogance and greed, hubris and, ultimately, humility, in the face of nature's frightening power.
By the dawn of the 19th century, the deadliest killer in human history, tuberculosis, had killed one in seven of all the people who had ever lived. The disease struck America with a vengeance, ravaging communities and touching the lives of almost every family. The battle against the deadly bacteria had a profound and lasting impact on the country. It shaped medical and scientific pursuits, social habits, economic development, western expansion, and government policy. Yet both the disease and its impact are poorly understood: in the words of one writer, tuberculosis is our "forgotten plague."
During the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, North Vietnamese forces closed in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance quickly crumbled. With the specter of a Communist victory looming and only a skeleton crew of diplomats and military operatives still in the country, the United States prepared to withdraw. As they began to realize the likely imprisonment and possible death of their South Vietnamese allies, American diplomats and soldiers confronted a moral quandary: obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens, or risk being charged with treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can. With time running out and the city under fire, an unlikely group of heroes emerged as Americans and South Vietnamese took matters into their own hands.
As Wednesday, July 13, 1977 dawned hot and humid, New Yorkers prepared themselves for another sweltering day. It was the first day of a nine-day heat wave that would become the hottest in New York City history. The once-booming city had been suffering years of economic decline. It was on the verge of bankruptcy; both unemployment rates and crime rates were high; police and firefighters had been laid off; municipal services, including sanitation and after-school programs, had been cut; and a serial killer named Son of Sam was still on the loose, keeping everyone on edge.
When a severe thunderstorm hit, the lights went out, and some eight million people plunged into darkness in New York City and surrounding areas. By the time the power was fully restored more than a day later, more than 1,600 businesses had been looted, more than 3,000 people had been arrested, and firefighters had battled more than 1,000 fires. The affected neighborhoods would never be the same.
The life and legacy of filmmaker and animator Walt Disney, from his creation of Mickey Mouse through the making of ``Snow White,'' the first full-length animated film.
Walt Disney's life and legacy, from "Cinderella" to "Mary Poppins" and his vision and realization of Disneyland.
Meet William Morgan, the larger-than-life American who rose to power in Cuba during the revolution.
Discover the harrowing and brutal truths behind the Pilgrims' arrival in the New World and the myths of Thanksgiving. Director Ric Burns explores the history of our nation's beginnings in this epic tale of converging forces.
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