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Customer Review

337 of 369 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but some historical details are distorted, November 28, 2012
This review is from: The Men Who Built America [DVD] (DVD)
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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Showing 1-10 of 34 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 29, 2012 12:48:45 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 29, 2012 12:50:23 PM PST
Gluskabe says:
Since I was suspicious about some of the reenactments portrayed in the show, I looked up to see what actually happened when the anarchist tried to assassinate Henry Frick in episode 2. In the show, the anarchist shoots and then stabs Henry Frick. Frick fights back and beats the guy unconscious. When I was watching it I thought, "Wow, Henry Frick must've really been a tough guy." Well, what actually happened historically was that there was a third man in the room who helped Henry Frick tackle the assailant. Henry did fight back, however he did not singlehandedly subdue his attacker. After Henry and the third man tackled the shooter, other people in the office jumped in to assist in restraining the attacker. Why was that changed? Dramatic license? Come on, this is history! And it's not like they made it any better by altering some of the details.. Bah!

Posted on Dec 22, 2012 8:36:30 AM PST
Agreed. Interestingly, I too have heard a different story to what was told, where it was Frick who first boarded up the factory, locking out the workers. As the Pinkerton's were coming into Pittsburgh via barge the 2 sides clashed. I'm not a history buff but i do wonder what was gained by distorting the facts of something clearly documented (in fact if anyone is looking for further reference find it here: or 25:30 mins into "Empires of Industry: Andrew Carnegie and the Age of Steel"). History Channel should consider such things prior to putting their name on a product. To their credit i think the majority of it was true and maybe more importantly its inspired me to learn more about the Gilded Age.

Posted on Dec 26, 2012 1:54:59 PM PST
Robber Barons? What the series showed me was the men who built the foundation of the modern world....check out what was going on in the other parts of the world before you use the Leftist slur "robber baron" against these men.

Posted on Jan 6, 2013 10:38:14 AM PST
I am a lover of history too, and I find it distressing when I know something is not portrayed correctly. I am a stickler for dates and when I see the wrong dates given, it just makes me stop and wonder how thoroughly the research was done! Will purchase and watch because it is a part of history I have big holes in.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 6, 2013 10:40:41 AM PST
They kill me when they try "to make it more interesting." Let the history speak for itself, I want the truth not made up drama!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 10, 2013 11:50:33 AM PST
Gluskabe says:
Exactly. The truth is interesting enough. They don't need to "dramatize" it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2013 3:43:58 AM PST
C. David says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Feb 4, 2013 10:55:34 PM PST
Leon says:
I suspect you're wrong that there wasn't any political motivation behind making the Homestead strikers out to be totally innocent, non-violent victims. Hollywood can't stand big business and they love the labor movement. Since the series generally can't help but portray the business builders (please don't call them robber barons, it's an unfair pejorative) as enterprising great men, I'm sure they felt pressure to throw a bone to pro-labor movement sentiment.

Make no mistake, portraying the battle of Homestead as a one-sided affair, with the Pinkertons (and hence Carnegie) as the unmitigated bad guys, was a conscious choice. If anything, it's even more dramatic to show the strikers as combative too. And it would have taken very little time to add that in (ten seconds would have sufficed). You can quibble over who's at more fault, but there's no disputing the fact that the strikers had guns and used them (to great effect). This deviation from reality, in an otherwise superb series, has political motivation written all over it. It's a shame.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2013 11:54:19 PM PST
Here's the definition of the term: an unscrupulous plutocrat, esp. an American capitalist who acquired a fortune in the late nineteenth century by ruthless means.

If that doesn't sum up people like J. D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie then I don't know what does.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 15, 2013 11:55:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 15, 2013 11:55:49 AM PST
Leon says:
Actually, a robber baron was a feudal lord who used force (literally) to rob those who passed through his territory. Its application to the successful businessmen of late-19th century America was a slanderous, gross exaggeration leveled by their critics who wanted to make them sound worse than they really were. However "ruthless" men like Rockefeller were, they succeeded without force, and the world was a better place because of them.
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