Top positive review
63 people found this helpful
Well done documentary
on February 2, 2013
I caught this program on the History Channel two nights ago. It's one of the better documentaries I've seen on the History Channel. It really held my attention. Of course, it helps that I've always been interested in this time period in American History - the Gilded Age, the Age of Enterprise, the progressive era, etc.
This documentary does in depth about the great business titans of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The label of "robber baron" has been attached to the great business titans of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a label that basically means "ruthless businessman" and "filthy rich". Indeed, the reality was that during their heyday, before anti-trust laws, before Theodore Roosevelt became an unexpected and trust-busting president, these business titans were in fact ruthless and competitive businessmen trying to gain as much power and wealth as possible while monopolizing entire industries. When the anti-big business William Jennings Bryan ran for president in 1896, these titans felt so threatened that they did the unprecedented by putting down their gloves and teaming up together to try to get William McKinley elected president for the simple fact that McKinley was pro-big business while Bryan was not. The strategy worked, as these titans contributed millions of dollars to the McKinley campaign. By 1900, Theodore Roosevelt, a young rising star in politics, held anti-trust views that made these titans nervous, so they set out to derail Roosevelt's momentum and agenda by trying to get him on the McKinley ticket in the 1900 presidential election so he could be a powerless Vice President under President William McKinley. Once again, the strategy worked, but McKinley's assassination in 1901 made Roosevelt an unexpected - and feared - President of the United States who was out to break the trusts. Understandably, this documentary exposes the cold truth, the ruthlessness of these men during the time when the absence of anti-trust laws allowed them to get away with monopolizing industries and having ruthless business practices, as well as the anti-trust climate of the 1890s and 1900s. The documentary depicts reality and events in chronological order. When Roosevelt became president, it was the beginning of the end of the long party the great business titans were enjoying for decades. Mention is even made about the progressive movement as well. Of course, the passage of time and revisionism beginning in the 1930s and 1940s has helped portray these men more as "industrial statesmen", men who helped build the nation and whose industries helped America win wars via use of oil, steel, electricity, etc., not to mention the philanthropy of these men. So the old debate still rages - were these men "robber barons" or "industrial statesmen"?
This documentary features Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford. In addition, Jay Gould, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and others are featured. Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Gould all have been labeled "robber barons" many times throughout history. Ford, on the other hand, was viewed in a more favorable light due to the fact that he was producing a product that he wanted the common man to be able to afford. However, despite whatever label, good or bad, has been attached to these men, they all had one thing in common that's indisputable - they helped build America into a superpower. The documentary also features interviews with current and former CEOs and founders of American corporations and businesses, such as Donald Trump, Donny Deutsch, Steve Case, Mark Cuban, and that Jack Welch guy from General Electric. The series is narrated by Campbell Scott and I thought he did a good job except for a mispronunciation or two. The cinematography was very good.
They spelled Grosse Pointe, Michigan wrong.
I didn't like that a full recap was done after every commercial break about what we had seen up until that point. It happened after every commercial break and was extremely repetitious and time consuming. I didn't care for the music by Blues Saraceno. It didn't "fit" at all.
Some of the shady things these business titans were up to during their heyday has been emulated by the corporate elitists of today. Just think of what happens with presidential elections of the current day.
Overall, though, this is a great documentary that I rate at 4 1/2 stars, rounded up to 5. I highly recommend watching it.