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American History Tellers

Author: Wondery

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The Cold War, Prohibition, the Gold Rush, the Space Race. Every part of your life -the words you speak, the ideas you share- can be traced to our history, but how well do you really know the stories that made America? We’ll take you to the events, the times and the people that shaped our nation. And we’ll show you how our history affected them, their families and affects you today. Hosted by Lindsay Graham (not the Senator). From Wondery, the network behind Tides Of History, Fall Of Rome and Dirty John.

130 Episodes
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American History Tellers. Our History, Your StoryPremieres January 3rd.
The phone in your hand is more powerful than all of the computers that put a man on the moon, combined. In the age of supercomputers, driverless cars, and mail-order DNA testing it’s easy to forget that the journey to these incredible innovations was a lot of surprising moments. We’re fascinated with the scientists, engineers and innovators who changed the world for the better… and sometimes worse. These are the leaps of mankind, as they happened.Introducing American Innovations from Wondery. Hosted by Steven Johnson, listen and subscribe to our first arc, The Dynamo of DNA, wherever you’re listening to this right now.Support this show by supporting our sponsors!
If you lived in an American city at the turn of the century, you got all of your news from a single source: the daily newspapers. No where was that more true than New York City; in the City, two papers ruled them all. You had the World and the Journal. And then men behind them were the most famous newsmen in American History.William Randolph Hearst headed up the Journal and Hungarian immigrant Joseph Pulitzer ran the World.In their mad scramble for readers, they’d pioneer daring technologies and set new precedents for aggressive investigative coverage. They poured millions of dollars into the fight even when their advisors warned it could push them over the brink.And in the end, it very nearly did. This is just the beginning of this story. You can listen to the rest on Business Wars.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
Named after one of the greatest U.S. presidents, the Lincoln Motor Company has become as ingrained in American culture as the Statue of Liberty. Founded by Henry Leland to produce plane engines during World War I, Lincoln became a key driver of the early automobile industry in the United States and a pioneer of the luxury car market. But when Leland’s vision proved too ambitious for the nascent American car market, Lincoln was purchased by the Ford Motor Company.The Ford acquisition would prove to be a game-changer for Lincoln. It provided the young company with a jolt of capital, marketing know-how, and a secret weapon: Henry Ford’s son, Edsel Ford, who possessed an uncanny sense of style and what customers wanted. He would lead the Lincoln to build an entirely new class of automobile: something “strictly continental.” Brought to you by the 2019 Lincoln MKC.
On Dec. 4, 1881 the Los Angeles Times published its very first edition. And while the paper ran into severe financial trouble just a year after its founding, it nevertheless survived and over its 138 year lifespan has been at the forefront of some monumental stories in American history. But, the news industry today is vastly different and extremely divisive. So how did we get here? The LA Times' Steve Padilla has worked at the paper for 32 years and he joins us to look back at the roots of the journalism industry and newspapers and how we go to where we are today.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
It's February 2nd 1922, and all of Hollywood is about to wake up and learn that William Desmond Taylor, the most famous film director in town, was murdered in his home last night. The investigation will shine a light on some of Hollywood's most scandalous affairs, backroom deals, and underground drug dens. This real life Murder Mystery is one of the most iconic "whodunnit" cases of the 20th century that will leave you guessing and second guessing who killed William Desmond Taylor for weeks to come. Co-hosted by Tracy Pattin & James RemarFind Murder in Hollywoodland at: wondery.fm/historytellersMiH
For nearly 50 years, the United States and Soviet Union waged a global war of ideas fueled by politics, intrigue, and nuclear weapons. But how did the polarized ideologies of these two global powers threaten the existence of the entire world?This is Episode 1 of a six-part series on the Cold War. We’ll discover how the United States’ suspicion of communism not only led to a global stand-off, but threatened the freedom and democracy Americans so cherished at home.For more information on the subjects and themes discussed in the episode, see the book “Global Cold War,” by Odd Arne Wested. It’s an amazing dissection of the ideologies that dominated the Cold War. See also, “Many Are the Crimes,” by Ellen Schrecker, for an in-depth discussion of McCarthyism and the real world effects of the Red Scare.For more info about Bentley Glass, the geneticist under investigation at the beginning of the article, see Audra Wolfe’s article, The Organization Man and the Archive: A Look at the Bentley Glass Papers. Wolfe’s book, “Competing with the Soviets,” was also crucial to our understanding of the Cold War.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
Forget trenches, infantry and tanks. The United States and Soviet Union fought the Cold War with ideas and information. Episode 2 describes the cunning of Soviet propaganda campaigns. The United States adapted those techniques for their own purposes, broadcasting an image of the nation as a beacon of hope and freedom through covert ops and jazz concerts alike - even if those at home were hurting or oppressed.For more information on the subjects and themes discussed in the episode, see the book “Total Cold War,” by Kenneth Osgood. It’s essential to understanding how propaganda shaped policy and vice-versa during the Cold War.Penny Von Eschen’s books, “Race Against Empire,” and “Satchmo Blows Up the World,” discuss at length the ways in which black American culture, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement both helped and hindered US foreign policy goals.Finally, Audra Wolfe’s book, “Competing with the Soviets,” was crucial to our overall understanding of the Cold War.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
What is the United States to do when direct conflict with the Soviet Union promises almost certain annihilation? They turned to proxy wars and psychological warfare with the threat of nuclear weapons keeping both countries in check. Ever wondered how an atom bomb works? We’ll cover it in Episode 3 including the scientific concepts, the arms race and the problem of ensuring complete and absolute control over these weapons.For more information on the subjects and themes discussed in the episode, see the book “Raven’s Rock” by Garrett Graff. It goes into great detail about the secret plans our government made to ride out a nuclear holocaust.Eric Schlosser’s “Command and Control” examines the ways the nuclear arsenal was required to function at 100% — and what happened the few times it didn’t.“Command and Control” was also made into a riveting documentary film.Finally, Audra Wolfe’s book, “Competing with the Soviets,” was crucial to our overall understanding of the Cold War.Listen and subscribe to Wondery's podcast Tides of History.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
Americans were desperate to find hope in the shadow of the bomb.Miracle cures, cheap energy, and even brand new atomic gardens: the wonders of the atom were ours to discover! Right? Eager to explore nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes, Americans instead found the resulting radioactive fallout too dangerous.In Episode 4, we’ll talk about swim wear, baby teeth, and how America just couldn’t get friendly with the atom.Scott Kauffman’s “Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War Alaska” was inspired by Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech and essential reading for anyone interested in nuclear history.Finally, Audra Wolfe’s book, “Competing with the Soviets,” was crucial to our overall understanding of the Cold War.Support us by supporting our sponsors!ZipRecruiter - To post jobs on ZipRecruiter for FREE, just go to ZipRecruiter.com/AHT
America sent a man to the moon in 1969, and with Neil Armstrong’s first steps, the United States projected to the world an image of American power, wealth and achievement. But it was hardly just for bragging rights. The space race started under Kennedy to compete with the Soviets on a global stage, but it was under Johnson that its goals became domestic. NASA, Head Start, Medicaid and even the war in Vietnam were domestic social programs, used at least in part to alleviate poverty, provide jobs and desegregate the country.But the spending on these programs birthed a new political movement on the right demanding smaller government - and attracted the ire of progressives on the left who thought the money spent on rockets to be misdirected. Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam intensified, costing the nation far more than just money.For more on NASA’s efforts to desegregate the South, check out the book “We Could Not Fail,” by Richard Paul and Steven Moss.For more on the African American women who worked as human computers for NASA, overcoming discrimination and sexism to change history, we recommend the book “Hidden Figures,” by Margot Lee Shetterly.Finally, Audra Wolfe’s book, “Competing with the Soviets,” was crucial to our overall understanding of the Cold War.Support the show by supporting our sponsors!
In the early 1970s, while trying to wind down the war in Vietnam, President Richard Nixon made overtures to Moscow and Beijing that would usher in a new era of the Cold War: Detente. But the thaw in relations didn’t last long - the Iran Hostage Crisis and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan set the old adversaries against each other once again. Throughout the Eighties, President Reagan took a hard line against the “Evil Empire,” ramping up military spending and rhetoric, and Americans were once again tense with nuclear anxiety.Until suddenly, it all changed.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
We’re closing out our series on the Cold War with two interviews with fascinating historians. First, we’re talking with Audra Wolfe, the author of Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America, and the writer of this first six-part series of American History Tellers. Then, we take a seat in the way-back machine with Patrick Wyman, host of the hit podcasts Fall of Rome and Tides of History. We’ll investigate how the Cold War standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union compares to another much earlier rivalry between ancient Rome and the Sassanid Persians. They might not have pointed nuclear warheads at each other, but the conflict was nonetheless tense and protracted.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
On January 17, 1920, the United States passed the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, ushering in a 13-year dry spell known as Prohibition. But how did a country that loved to drink turn its back on alcohol? How did two-thirds of both the House and Senate and three-fourths of State legislatures all agree that going dry was the way to get the country going forward? It had always been a long, uphill battle for the temperance movement, but towards the end of the nineteenth century, certain forces aligned: fears of industrialization, urbanization and immigration. Traditional American life was changing - fast - and many people looked for a scapegoat: the saloon.For more information on how Prohibition came to be, check out Professor David J. Hanson’s, “Alcohol Problems and Solutions,” a comprehensive, interactive site that outlines all the various stakeholders in the Noble Experiment.Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is a key text for learning more about Prohibition and how it came about. And, to narrow in on New York, itself, Michael Lerner’s Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City is a tremendous resource.The bootlegger character was based on a real story, A Bootlegger’s Story: How I Started, which ran in the New Yorker in 1926.For more on the Atlanta race riots and how they connect to Prohibition, check out this story on NPR, in which professor Cliff Kuhn describes his research. To learn more about the intersection between race and the policing of Prohibition, Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State is invaluable.Further references can be found in America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops by Christine Sismondo.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
When a German U-boat torpedoed the RMS Lusitania on Friday, May 7th, 1915, Americans found two new enemies: Germany and the beer it was so associated with. Anti-German sentiment grew, and with it hostility to the breweries founded in the 19th century by German immigrants. Soon, the war effort and the temperance movement were linked: it was patriotic to abstain, and Prohibition became law.How did America cope? They swapped their stool at the bar for a seat at the soda shop, listening to new radios and the first ever baseball broadcasts. But Americans’ thirst wasn’t ever fully quenched: they turned to family doctors who prescribed “medicinal alcohol,” and then finally to the bootleggers, moonshiners and rum-runners who made, smuggled and sold hooch of all types, from top-shelf French cognac to homemade swill that might just kill you.For more about the Lusitania, check out Dead Wake: The Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition has more information on medicinal alcohol and how it was prescribed by doctors. To learn more about medicinal beer, this article by Beverly Gage for The Smithsonian is excellent.The 1991 study “Alcohol Consumption During Prohibition” by Jeffrey A. Miron and Jeffrey Zwiebel, is considered the definitive study about how much people actually drank during the noble experiment. For more information on how Prohibition played out in the early days, check out Professor David J. Hanson’s, “Alcohol Problems and Solutions,” a comprehensive, interactive site that outlines all the various stakeholders in the Noble Experiment.To read more about Americans behaving badly in Cuba and other places during Prohibition, check out Wayne Curtis’s And A Bootle of Rum: A History of the World in Ten Cocktails, as well as Matthew Rowley’s Lost Recipes of Prohibition. And, to learn more about rum-runners, Daniel Francis’s book, Closing Time: Prohibition, Rum-Runners and Border Wars is an excellent reference.Further references can be found in America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops by Christine Sismondo.Support this show by supporting our sponsors!
While Prohibition was successful in closing the saloon, it didn’t quench America’s thirst. Enterprising bootleggers found more ways to provide more alcohol to parched Americans – so much that there was finally enough supply to meet demand. New drinking establishments popped up across the nation: speakeasies.Forced underground, these new types of saloons operated under new rules, too. Women drank right alongside the men, and both black and white patrons danced together to Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, all while local cops shrugged or were paid off to look the other way.But the Feds hadn’t turned their backs on the bootleggers. They went undercover, arresting thousands in stings that some claimed were entrapment. Increasingly, Federal agents took the job of enforcing Prohibition seriously. They had to; the business of illicit alcohol was growing dangerous – and violent.To learn more about Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith and the problems involved in the enforcement of Prohibition, check out Professor David J. Hanson’s, “Alcohol Problems and Solutions,” is an excellent resource.If you want to read more about the raids on Prohibition-era speakeasies in New Orleans, this “Intemperance” map by Hannah C. Griggs is an amazing resource that shows every single raid over in that city. For New York speakeasies, Michael Lerner’s Dry Manhattan is a thorough investigation of that city. Queen of the Nightclubs by Louise Berliner is also a fun read.To learn more about Harlem and the generation gap in the 1920s, Terrible Honesty by Ann Douglas is required reading.Support this show by supporting our sponsors!
The rise of the speakeasy was one of many unintended consequences of Prohibition - and others were much deadlier.Not coincidentally, at the same time Prohibition was taking effect, the Klu Klux Klan rose to power. They combined Prohibition’s anti-immigrant rhetoric with violence. As the number of speakeasies continued to grow, and states continued to buckle down, suppliers couldn’t keep up. Quality went down. Most bootleg alcohol from the time had elements of stuff that would kill you. But people everywhere still wanted to drink - and they would go to any length to get one.Almost everyone could see there was a problem with how Prohibition was actually playing out, but no one could agree what the solution was.No Place of Grace by T. J. Jackson Lears is a fantastic book to learn about the roots of modernism and anti-modernism in American culture. Allan Levine’s The Devil in Babylon also explores these themes, specifically how these impulses played out in 1920’s America.For more on the author of Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street by Richard Lingerman is a great read. And to understand the relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and Prohibition, Paul Angle’s Bloody Williamson: A Chapter in American Lawlessness and Thomas Pegram’s articles and books, including One Hundred Percent American are essential reading. Again, Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol explores these topics quite thoroughly and connects them to the rise of the modern state. A few different articles have delved into the dirty political campaigns of the 1920s, including this good summary by Mental Floss.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
Closing Time by Daniel Francis provides a good account of the border wars and smuggling across the northern border. Robert Rockaway’s article “The Notorious Purple Gang” details the gang’s origin as well as the Cleaners and Dyers War.For information about the link between Prohibition and organized crime in Chicago, Gus Russo’s The Outfit and Get Capone by Johnathan Eig are invaluable sources. Al Capone’s Beer Wars by John J. Binder is a fantastic re-assessment of the period that sorts out some of the fact from fiction, in a highly mythologized period. For more on the Increased Penalties Act, Michael Lerner’s Dry Manhattan, is a good resource used for this podcast, as is Daniel Okrent’s Last Call. Robin Room’s The Movies and the Wettening of America is the source for the section on Hollywood’s move away from temperance.Kenneth D. Rose’s American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition provided insight into Pauline Sabin’s work, as did David J. Hanson’s comprehensive resource, Alcohol Problems and Solutions. The Washington Post’s recap of The Man in the Green Hat exposé is available here. Support this show by supporting our sponsors!
The people had spoken: They wanted beer, and they wanted it now, but not just for drinking. Protestors wanted the jobs that came with breweries, and the country was desperate from the money that could come from alcohol taxes. As quickly as temperance organizations sprang up in the decade before, anti-Prohibition organizations appeared in every city. But, a constitutional amendment had never been repealed before. The anti-Prohibition leagues realized they needed someone bigger than a governor or mayor to repeal this. They went after the Presidency.For a deeper understanding of the interplay between beer, taxation and the history of Repeal, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Brew by Maureen Ogle is essential reading.  Kenneth D. Rose’s American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition provided insight into Pauline Sabin’s work, as did David J. Hanson’s comprehensive resource, Alcohol Problems and Solutions.Those who want to do a deeper dive into the 1932 DNC and the mob’s involvement, you can read more in the article from Salon, Corruption for Decades. Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State also explores the relationship between the New Deal and Repeal. For more on Cox’s Army, check out The Bonus Army: An American Epic by Paul Dixon and Thomas B. Allen.Andrew Barr’s Drink: A Social History of America contains a great chapter about the failure of controls and the legacy of prohibition in state liquor laws and the relationship between California’s wine industry and repeal is well documented in When the Rivers Ran Red by Vivienne Sosnowski. To catch up with the bartenders who are bringing back pre-Prohibition cocktails, David Wondrich’s Imbibe is required reading.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
Do you know the record for the longest ratification period of any constitutional amendment? Lillian Cunningham did. She’s an editor with the Washington Post, host of two outstanding American History podcasts, Presidential and Constitutional, and she’s our guest today. We’ll talk about amendments, those presidents you can never remember (can you name anything about Millard Fillmore?) and she helps us preview the next series on AHT, the Age of Jackson.Support us by supporting our sponsors!
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Comments (117)

Ryan Ferkel

Please do a series on religious revivals in America. Despite the significant effects they had our society, there seems to be surprisingly little content in today’s podcasts, articles, curriculum, etc...

Jun 28th
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will houghton

This whole series is fantastic. An absolute joy to listen too

Jun 1st
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Aaron Britton

Damn this is so applicable to today's Pandemic.

Jun 1st
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Caleb Sowers

Notice he doesn't say that the vote is split among Democrat and Whig lines, but pro-slave and abolitionist lines. Laughable

May 6th
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Caleb Sowers

Again, hard to take it serious. They talk about the Democrats like they were sympathetic to the slaves and natives and opposed to Jackson. Completely untrue. The Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of JACKSON!

May 6th
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Caleb Sowers

Hard to take a history podcast serious when they refer Republicans in office in 1819 when it hadn't been founded til 1854.... 🤔

May 6th
Reply (1)

Cris Williams

Great content. Perfect timing on this one. Lots of parrells between these two pandemics.

Mar 16th
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Aaron Britton

This is a mislabeled episode.

Feb 24th
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Cris Williams

Am I the only one who sees the dark humor in the fact that Hutchings was suing the government because they would not allow him to keep the land that was stolen from the Indians to begin with....

Feb 18th
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Pete Jackson King

Amazing how much this reminds one of 2020

Feb 9th
Reply (1)

Cris Williams

Love history. Binge listened to Prohibition. 100 years later the same story is unfolding only now it's Marijuana and Sports gambling.

Feb 6th
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Nay E.

I wish you guys would’ve mention how Bryant changed her statement in 2008

Jan 31st
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Sid Leake

Just completed the final episode of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. The racism so prominent in Tulsa is the very same racism I grew up with in the 40's & 50's in Houston, serving as a cop in the early '60's. Such hatred and loathing of African Americans was common and palpable. I can tell you it still exists, although in a different form. Now it's immigrants of color, progressives and any government spending, or even involvement in efforts to educate and lift up "black people." But they'll never cop to it. See in in the smug faces of the GOP. It's there and will probably remain for another 30, 40, or 50 years.

Jan 30th
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Deplorable Mike

The whole topic of the California water wars was something I had never remotely thought about, at least not until I saw the phenominal movie "Chinatown". My nose still hurts every time I think about it. I came away from it not only marvelling at what a great movie it was and what a great actor Jack Nicholson is, but with a real awareness and appreciation for the incredibly consequential impact these wars had.

Jan 26th
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paul richards

why do you consistently refer to the Democrat Party as the Democratic Party? It makes you sound poorly informed. You are a good story teller, the podcast would be great if you stayed impartial.

Jan 22nd
Reply (5)

Sid Leake

I love your storytelling. This Clay Co KY feud was something I'd never heard about. How dramatic. your stories are told with a presence that puts the listener at the scene. Marvelous. Sid Leake Sugar Land, TX

Jan 18th
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John Benatti

like the podcast but the wall street suicides has been disproven

Jan 7th
Reply (1)

WatchDawg

I would like to keep listening but the deep voiced man saying a woman's words doesn't work for me. Same can be said for the women on Wonderys podcasts that do men or boys voices. It's creepy.

Dec 23rd
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Jeremy Lewthwaite

the wrong podcast has been uploaded

Dec 16th
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Prof. Farnsworth

I'm on the fence. I like the history, but can't help the feeling there is an agenda here as well. I'm also trying to figure out why when there is a part where the dialogue is for a male character there is a woman acting it out. Is this some leftist push to say men are bad?

Dec 15th
Reply
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