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on November 28, 2012
I generally enjoyed the show and how it ties together the stories of the various robber barons of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. But I was kind of irked at how some of the historical details were distorted. For instance, they got the whole Homestead strike/battle wrong. If you just watched the show you would think that the Pinkertons just walked up to the striking steelworkers at Homestead and opened fire. Historically, there was a battle in that the strikers themselves were armed too. The Pinkertons were trying to land in barges and were actually forced to surrender! Why change that? I don't think it was for any political/ideological reason that I could tell. But it's like they tried to simplify things so much that it actually distorts what happened. It makes me wonder what else in the series is not quite the way it happened. I realize in making a show about such a large topic that you can't throw in every detail but in trying to oversimplify it, it does a disservice to history. So I enjoy the series for tying together some parts of history that I didn't know about and making me want to read more, but at the same time I am disappointed at some of the details they get wrong.
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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.
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on November 16, 2012
I was browsing the channels when I happened across "Men who built America" on the History channel and I figured it was just a documentary and to my surprise it is more like a mini-series with action and plots. I was entirely taken in with the story line and am I am buying the DVD to see the parts that I missed. Well worth the cost of the DVD
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on August 22, 2013
I loved this series back when it was broadcast on the History Channel. I thought about getting the DVD for my 10year-old--nephew, to get him interested in history, then I decided, no, it's not a video game, it will sit and collect dust if I did that, so I'm keeping it for myself. Where I know it will be watched and appreciated. If you love great non-fiction drama, you will love these individual stories and how they're tied together to make our country's background.
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on December 2, 2012
By far and away, the most well done documentary I've ever seen. Pace is just right, moves quickly enough to keep your interest, yet covers each point very, very well. Narration, acting, scenery/sets, lighting, editing, dialogue, information, all 10 stars, very realistic. Very interesting subject matter, at least to me, learned things I never knew. Hard for me to know, but sure seemed to me that they painted these guys as realistic as possible - giving them credit for being smart, ambitious, willing to take risks, and extremely competitive, while acknowledging their greed, without outright trashing them in the town square for it.

The writers and director leave it to us to decide where we draw our personal line as far as monopolistic power itself, in an age when when dealing with it both morally as well as legally, was still largely new to the US government and its people.
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on June 6, 2013
Most enlightening and a great reminder of how far we have moved away from that great American spirit of work ethics and seeking better and more ways to move our country forward. Also, there was no shame in becoming wealthy for having worked hard and smart. Yes, despite the words from the White House, they did build it.
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on November 17, 2012
This was an excellent program detailing not only the good, but the bad of the era. We forget what America was like in the late 1800's and how far we have come. Education like history never ends. When we fail to remember history, we certainly will fail again.
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I really think that this is going to be the future of the documentary on television. I called them DocuDramas. If you don't know basically this series is told as a documentary but when certain points are being made they splice in action or dramatic scenes. If you're somebody who likes documentaries then this is a great series for you. And if you're somebody who does not like documentaries this still might be a series you will enjoy. It is just a well produced series and I recommend it to anybody who wants to know the history of America a little better.

From the series I learned:
Abraham Lincoln was shot a mere six days after the Civil War ended. To me that is crazy I can't believe it was less than a week, to me that's a very cool fact.
That Thomas Edison & Nicola Tesla worked together before parting ways over their differences on AC & DC currents.

One other thing I like to point out about the series if you're somebody who is an entrepreneur or interested in business this series is a definite must watch. Because it helps you get into the minds of people who are successful in business. You could see what motivated Rockefeller or why Cornelius Vanderbilt was so successful. You get to see how to be a businessman by learning from the great business men of the past. Watching it with a view to business and how to be successful in said business makes this a must-see from that standpoint.

Thanks for reading out you enjoyed.
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on April 5, 2015
While the subject natter is extremely interesting and it presents many little-known facts about these men and the companies they built, it comes off very choppy and repetitive - kinda like it used to have commercials that got edited out and after each commercial (or episode piece?) they repeat again what you saw last time.. This might be useful if you were watching it on the air over several nights but when you watch it at home on a dvd it is frustratingly repetitive. Making matters worse is the navigation menu, which is almost useless. Choosing segments within a disk is baflfing and does not seem possible. In summary a good show but very poor execution on dvd
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on February 24, 2014
I had great hopes for this series based on reviews, but the historical accuracy is a joke. I could go into just the major ones, but the review would run on for pages. The Death of Tom Scott had no impact on Carnegie feelings toward Rockefeller, Frick had is challenges, but almost nothing in this show portrays him or the events around him accurately. JP Morgan didn’t run companies; he invested his and other’s money into firms. Carnegie Steel was not saved by Morgan. The ST Louis Bridge was not a great vision of Carnegie and had almost no impact on the development of the steel industry, etc……. The show has a clear progressive/liberal tilt that has unfortunately continues to portray these individuals as ruthless “Robber Barons” will little care or concern for the rest of humanity. The show provides little on how they greatly increased the standard of living of Americans and created greater wealth for millions of people.
This is a well filmed and performed period piece that is entertaining to watch. Just don’t purchase it to provide your kids a history lesson because it is mostly fiction.
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