A Biography of America
Industrial Supremacy – Inventions, 1868 – 1898
How did technological innovation impact the United States after the Civil War?
George Westinghouse, who would eventually hold more than 400 patents related to railroads and the development of electric power, invents the railroad airbrake and improves it in 1872. The airbrake is a revolutionary advancement in railroad safety and efficiency, making it possible to stop an entire train by pulling just one lever.
Railroads span the continent
The Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad meet at Promontory Point, Utah, linking the United States by rail from East to West for the first time. In a “golden spike” ceremony on May 10, 1869, the final spike that links the rails is attached to telegraph wires so the blows of the hammer can be heard from coast to coast.
Electricity drives machines
Important advances in our understanding of electricity come from Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who publishes his Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism and from a 24-year old American physicist, Henry A. Rowland, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, who explores magnetic fields and alternating current. In Vienna, electricity is used to drive a machine for the first time.
New York installs first electric streetcar
New York City installs an electric streetcar system designed by Stephen Dudley Field. The system is dangerous and ineffective, but it is a sign of major changes to come in urban transportation.
First typewriter marketed
Remington and Sons, a New York gun manufacturing company, markets the first practical typewriter, from an 1868 patent. It has capital letters only. Thomas Edison was granted a patent for an electric typewriter in 1872, but it is not commercially viable until the 1920s. The typewriter quickly changes American office work and provides an opportunity for great numbers of women to enter the work force.
First telephone demonstrated
Scottish-American inventor Alexander Graham Bell, a teacher of the deaf, while experimenting with “electric speech” with telegraph instruments, discovers the properties that lead to the practical development of the telephone. On March 10, 1876, the first sentences uttered over Bell’s new telephone are: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”
Armour and Swift begin Chicago meatpacking
Refrigerated railroad cars developed
Refrigerated railroad cars, primarily box cars packed with ice, are in regular use to ship meat from Chicago Stockyards to markets in the East. In 1878 meat packer Gustavus Swift hires a Boston engineer, Andrew Chase, to develop an improved refrigerated car. The refrigerated car greatly expands markets for perishable products.
Inventions showcased at Centennial Exposition
American inventions are showcased at the U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Among more than 8,000 machines displayed are Remington’s typewriter and Bell’s telephone. A giant Corliss Steam Engine symbolizes the steam power of the age. Visitors at the Centennial Exposition learn via telegraph that Colonel George Armstrong Custer has been killed fighting Indians at the Little Big Horn.
Battle of Little Big Horn
Widespread railroad strikes in “Great Uprising of 1877”
Surrender of Nez Percé and Chief Joseph
Thomas A. Edison, a prolific inventor who will eventually accumulate more than 1300 patents for his inventions, patents the phonograph, invented the previous year. His first recording, on tin foil, is “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Edison Electric Light Company founded
Edison develops light bulb
Thomas A. Edison develops the first practical electric light bulb. The next year he builds a generating station in London, England, to power street lights.
Carnegie begins steel production
50,000 telephone subscribers in U.S.
The United States has 50,000 telephone subscribers, in only five years since its invention.
Railroad boom begins
U. S. railroad building increases dramatically during the 1880s, with 70,000 miles of track laid in ten years, linking the nation in a vast rail system for transportation of people and goods.
Eastman invents dry photographic plate
Young inventor and bank clerk George Eastman, working at home in his mother’s kitchen, invents a dry photographic plate process that will eventually lead to photographic film and the mass marketing of film and cameras.
Chinese Exclusion Acts
First electric power station in New York
Edison’s first electric power station in the United States is built in New York City to power electric lights
First electric streetcar in Chicago
Standard Oil Trust formed
Brooklyn Bridge opens
The Brooklyn Bridge, a major feat of engineering, links Brooklyn and New York City.
Time zones established
The United States is divided into four time zones to bring order to the growing complexity of railroad schedules.
Fountain pen patented
Lewis E. Waterman, a New York inventor, patents and successfully markets a fountain pen, a major innovation in the history of writing instruments.
Montgomery Ward catalog begins
Mass marketing of goods by mail order becomes a major new industry with the issuance of a mail order catalog by Montgomery Ward of Chicago. The catalog contains 10,000 items. Two years later, Sears, Roebuck and Company in Minnesota, begins modestly by selling cheap watches by mail order. Mail order firms and department stores in major cities provide unprecedented access to goods to millions of Americans.
First gasoline-powered car demonstrated
Karl-Friedrich Benz demonstrates the first practical gasoline-powered motor vehicle in Germany.
First operational electric trolley in Baltimore
The first American electric trolley line becomes operational in Baltimore, Maryland. The trolley cars get their power from overhead electric wires.
Westinghouse develops AC electric power
George Westinghouse pioneers in the development of electrical transformers. Westinghouse is the major developer of alternating current (AC) electric power. Edison’s early uses of electricity used direct current (DC). Alternating current can travel over much longer distances than direct current and make it possible to rapidly expand electric service to individual homes.
First iron-frame skyscraper built in Chicago
The first skyscraper with an iron frame is built in Chicago. The Home Insurance Building, nine stories high when first built, becomes the model for the massive skyscrapers that grow up in Chicago, New York, and other cities as symbols of the new age of big business.
American Federation of Labor founded
Haymarket Riot in Chicago
Surrender of Geronimo
First Kodak camera
George Eastman markets the Kodak camera for the first time. It brings photography out of the studio and into the hands of ordinary citizens. Priced at $25, the camera takes one hundred pictures, but has to be returned to Eastman’s firm in Rochester, New York, for processing and the loading of a new roll of film.
Motion picture projector invented
Thomas Edison invents the kinetoscope, which displays motion by showing a rapid succession of single images on 35 mm perforated celluloid film. The public gets its first look in 1893, peering one person at a time into a slot in the projection box. In 1895 in France, Auguste and Louis Lumière project a film for an audience for the first time.
First electric elevator installed
The Otis Company installs the first electric elevator in the Demarest building on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
250,000 telephone subscribers in U.S.
The United States has 250,000 telephone subscribers, five times the amount ten years earlier.
Wounded Knee Massacre
Whitcomb Judson patents a “slide fastener” soon called the zipper. The use of zippers on fashionable clothing takes time, but within twenty years it is established as a standard feature in wide use.
Homestead steelworkers strike
Ford tests his quadricycle
Henry Ford tests his first automobile, which Ford calls a quadricycle, or more affectionately his gasoline buggy.
World’s Columbian Exposition
The World’s Columbian Exposition opens in Chicago, and hundreds of thousands of Americans travel from all over the country to visit it, most coming by railroad. Featured at the Exposition is a 250-foot diameter steel Ferris Wheel, the first ever built.
Duryea brothers build first practical American car
Charles and J. Frank Duryea build the first practical American automobile and launch the first American automobile company.
Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise” Address
Plessy v. Ferguson
Unit 1 New World Encounters
American history moves from west to east, beginning with Ice Age migrations, through the corn civilizations of Middle America, to the explorations of Columbus, de Soto, and other Spaniards.
Unit 2 English Settlement
As the American character begins to take shape in the early seventeenth century, English settlements develop in New England and Virginia. Their personalities are dramatically different. Professor Miller explores the origins of values, cultures, and economies that have collided in the North and South throughout the American story.
Unit 3 Growth and Empire
Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's Philadelphia take center stage in this program. As the merchant class grows in the North, the economies of southern colonies are built on the shoulders of the slave trade. Professor Miller brings the American story to 1763 with the Peace of Paris and English dominance in America.
Unit 4 The Coming of Independence
Professor Maier tells the story of how the English-loving colonist transforms into the freedom-loving American rebel. The luminaries of the early days of the Republic -- Washington, Jefferson, Adams -- are featured in this program as they craft the Declaration of -- and wage the War for -- Independence.
Unit 5 A New System of Government
After the War for Independence, the struggle for a new system of government begins. Professor Maier looks at the creation of the Constitution of the United States. The Republic survives a series of threats to its union, and the program ends with the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July, 1826.
Unit 6 Westward Expansion
At the dawn of the 19th century, the size of the United States doubles with the Louisiana Purchase. The Appalachians are no longer the barrier to American migration west; the Mississippi River becomes the country's central artery; and Jefferson's vision of an Empire of Liberty begins to take shape. American historian Stephen Ambrose joins Professors Maier and Miller in examining the consequences of the Louisiana Purchase -- for the North, the South, and the history of the country.
Unit 7 The Rise of Capitalism
Individual enterprise merges with technological innovation to launch the Commercial Revolution -- the seedbed of American industry. The program features the ideas of Adam Smith, the efforts of entrepreneurs in New England and Chicago, the Lowell Mills Experiment, and the engineering feats involved in Chicago's early transformation from marsh to metropolis.
Unit 8 The Reform Impulse
The Industrial Revolution has its dark side, and the tumultuous events of the period touch off intense and often thrilling reform movements. Professor Masur presents the ideas and characters behind the Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, the women's movement, and a powerful wave of religious fervor.
Unit 9 Slavery
While the North develops an industrial economy and culture, the South develops a slave culture and economy, and the great rift between the regions becomes unbreachable. Professor Masur looks at the human side of the history of the mid-1800s by sketching a portrait of the lives of slave and master.
Unit 10 The Coming of the Civil War
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from 'Bloody Kansas' to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.
Unit 11 The Civil War
As the Civil War rages, all eyes turn to Vicksburg, where limited war becomes total war. Professor Miller looks at the ferocity of the fighting, at Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and at the bitter legacy of the battle -- and the war.
Unit 12 Reconstruction
Professor Miller begins the program by evoking in word and picture the battlefield after the battle of Gettysburg. With the assassination of President Lincoln, one sad chapter of American history comes to a close. In the fatigue and cynicism of the Civil War's aftermath, Reconstructionism becomes a promise unfulfilled.
Unit 13 America at Its Centennial
As America celebrates its centennial, 5 million people descend on Philadelphia to celebrate America's technological achievements, but some of the early principles of the Republic remain unrealized. Professor Miller and his team of historians examine where America is in 1876 and discuss the question of race.
Unit 14 Industrial Supremacy
Steel and stockyards are featured in this program as the mighty engine of industrialism thunders forward at the end of the nineteenth century. Professor Miller continues the story of the American Industrial Revolution in New York and Chicago, looking at the lives of Andrew Carnegie, Gustavus Swift, and the countless workers in the packinghouse and on the factory floor.
Unit 15 The New City
Professor Miller explores the tension between the messy vitality of cities that grow on their own and those where orderly growth is planned. Chicago -- with Hull House, the World's Columbian Exposition, the new female workforce, the skyscraper, the department store, and unfettered capitalism -- is the place to watch a new world in the making at the turn of the century.
Unit 16 The West
Professor Scharff continues the story of Jefferson's Empire of Liberty. Railroads and ranchers, rabble-rousers and racists populate America's distant frontiers, and Native Americans are displaced from their homelands. Feminists gain a foothold in their fight for the right to vote, while farmers organize and the Populist Party appears on the American political landscape.
Unit 17 Capital and Labor
The making of money pits laborers against the forces of capital as the twentieth century opens. Professor Miller introduces the miner as the quintessential laborer of the period -- working under grinding conditions, organizing into unions, and making a stand against the reigning money man of the day, J. Pierpont Morgan.
Unit 18 TR and Wilson
Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley.
Unit 19 A Vital Progressivism
Professor Martin offers a fresh perspective on Progressivism, arguing that its spirit can be best seen in the daily struggles of ordinary people. In a discussion with Professors Scharff and Miller, the struggles of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans are placed in the context of the traditional white Progressive movement.
Unit 20 The Twenties
The Roaring Twenties take to the road in Henry Ford's landscape-altering invention -- the Model T. Ford's moving assembly line, the emergence of a consumer culture, and the culmination of forces let loose by these entities in Los Angeles are all explored by Professor Miller.
Unit 21 FDR and the Depression
Professor Brinkley continues his story of twentieth century presidents with a profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Brinkley paints a picture of America during the Depression and chronicles some of Roosevelt's programmatic and personal efforts to help the country through its worst economic crisis. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is at FDR's side and, in many respects, ahead of him as the decade unfolds.
Unit 22 World War II
America is enveloped in total war, from mobilization on the home front to a scorching air war in Europe. Professor Miller's view of World War II is a personal essay on the morality of total war, and its effects on those who fought, died, and survived it, including members of his own family.
Unit 23 The Fifties
World War II is fought to its bitter end in the Pacific and the world lives with the legacy of its final moment: the atomic bomb. Professor Miller continues the story as veterans return from the war and create new lives for themselves in the '50s. The GI Bill, Levittown, civil rights, the Cold War, and rock 'n' roll are discussed.
Unit 24 The Sixties
Professor Scharff weaves the story of the Civil Rights movement with stories of the Vietnam War and Watergate to create a portrait of a decade. Lyndon Johnson emerges as a pivotal character, along with Stokely Carmichael, Fanny Lou Hamer, and other luminaries of the era.
Unit 25 Contemporary History
The entire team of historians joins Professor Miller in examining the last quarter of the twentieth century. A montage of events opens the program and sets the stage for a discussion of the period -- and of the difficulty of examining contemporary history with true historical perspective. Television critic John Leonard offers a footnote about the impact of television on the way we experience recent events.
Unit 26 The Redemptive Imagination
Storytelling is a relentless human urge and its power forges with memory to become the foundation of history. Novelists Charles Johnson (Middle Passage), Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha), and Esmeralda Santiago (America's Dream) join Professor Miller in discussing the intersection of history and story. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., closes the series with a reflection on the power of the human imagination.