Set your DVR to the History Channel's "Men Who Built America" mini-series which begins Tuesday night at 9:00 PM. I play Alexander Winton racing Henry Ford. The first program focused on Vanderbilt and Rockefeller with just a brief clip of the Black Beast at the introduction of Henry Ford. I believe the Henry Ford episode with the re-enactment of the historic 1901 race between Ford and Winton will run on Sunday, November 11, 2012.
Check out my stunt driving skills in this 30-second trailer:
YouTube version (38 second mark)
Then as Now, Businessmen Bent on Power
By NEIL GENZLINGER
Published: October 15, 2012
The Men Who Built America Ed LaBounty, far left, and Howard Kroplick in this docu-series about early tycoons, on History, on Tuesday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time. Photo by Zach Dilgard/A&E
The titans of the early industrial age get a professional-wrestling sort of treatment in the slickly made docu-series “The Men Who Built America,” which begins on Tuesday night on the History channel.
The program may not contain any startling revelations about its five principal subjects, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford. But based on the first episode, it certainly gives them a modern-day relevance, perhaps unintentionally. It connects them to the super-rich business executives of today who seem more interested in machinations and profits than in people.
The series begins in 1865, just after the assassination of Lincoln, and it lays out its central theme bluntly. “For the first time in the country’s short existence,” the narration says, “the man most capable of leading America is not a politician.”
He is, the series hypothesizes, Vanderbilt, and he certainly helps lead the country into the industrial age by creating a railroad empire. The episode recaps his career through the familiar combination of narration and re-enactment (with the re-enactments being of especially high quality for this type of series), but there’s a twist. Instead of using biographers and academics as talking heads, the series gets its color commentary from modern-day figures who have loomed large in the worlds of business and finance, like Mark Cuban, Jack Welch and Steve Wozniak.
This is the brawn-on-brawn view of history: the focus is on how the five titans outmuscled their competitors and sometimes one another to build business empires and personal fortunes of absurd — some might say obscene — size. (The re-enactments foster this tone with slow-motion striding, clipped conversation and so on; the business world version of macho.)
Perhaps future episodes will explore whether this was the only way that the job of industrialization could have been accomplished. But the first installment, which introduces Vanderbilt and Rockefeller and foreshadows the emergence of Carnegie, seems interested in gamesmanship for gamesmanship’s sake.
It’s an unflattering portrait of these men, one that suggests that they didn’t care about the people who depended on them for jobs or about what their posturing and stock market fiddling were doing to the overall economy. There may be accuracy to that view, but of course it’s an oversimplification, as countless libraries, museums and other examples of their philanthropy attest.
Yet the tone also gives the series a timeliness. Amid all the attention two men are getting as they try to win the presidency here in 2012, it’s a reminder that most of the things that directly shape our personal lives — the jobs, the goods, the utilities, even the pollution — are created and controlled by people who never stand for election.
The Men Who Built America
History, Tuesday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.
Produced by Stephen David Entertainment in association with History. Russ McCarroll and Paul Cabana, executive producers for History; Stephen David, executive producer for Stephen David Entertainment.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
TV Review: ‘The Men Who Built America’
History special spotlights high-powered capitalists Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 6:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 4:00 PM.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was one of the first to see how railroads could change how goods are shipped, creating the model for modern railroads.
Title: 'The Men Who Built America'.
Network / Air Date: Tuesday at 9 p.m., History.
Andrew Carnegie created a way to forge stronger steel (scene from History’s ‘The Men Who Built America’)
The stories of America’s great 19th- and early 20th-century capitalists have rarely been told better than they are in this eight-hour History series.
That doesn’t mean “The Men Who Built America” tells the whole story, because it spends little time on the human and moral issues raised by the work of these monumentally ambitious men.
But for outlining the way Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford literally shaped the America in which we still live, this special stands as tall as Rockefeller Center.
It starts with Vanderbilt, who envisioned a network of railroads to facilitate national commerce and figured out how to own it.
“Men” segues from there to Rockefeller, who defies the railroads by building pipelines to transport the oil on which he muscled his way to a near-monopoly.
This slides into Carnegie and the development of modern steel, from which we move to Morgan’s skill at controlling the financial markets and finally Ford making automobiles for the masses.
The impact of any one of these men on American life would be profound. Their collective impact arguably exceeded almost anything the government did in those 60 or 70 years, with the exception of the Civil War.
It’s been called the golden age of capitalism, with few if any restraints, and little in this special argues otherwise.
What it touches just lightly, at least in the early hours, is the price others paid to make these men rich beyond imagination, starting with lethally exploited workers.
But that’s for another special — ideally, one as good as this.