We have all heard of Vanderbilt University, Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, JP Morgan Chase, and Ford Motors, but there namesake had more to shape America than even your history teacher would have you believe. They became the first men in America more powerful than the president (and even bought one of them) and gave us what would become the foundation of America in the twentieth century: railways, oil, steel, electricity, and the automobile. Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford were the basis of History’s The Men Who Built America.
The series took place over the five decades in between the Civil War and the First World War when the industrial revolution propelled the United States into a super power it remains today. Spread over eight episodes (the series was originally aired in four two hour segments, but has been cut done to an hour for the home video release) it follows those five men as they compete with each other while using each other product in a battle to become the richest man in the world. Really it mainly follows the middle three as Vanderbilt dies early on and Ford does not show up until the last episode to introduce the same work practices that are used today.
The mini-series is narrator by Campbell Scott and features commentary from historian and some of today’s most notable entrepreneurs and businessmen like Donald Trump, Mark Cuban, Jack Welsh, and Alan Greenspan. Even though many of Men lived over a decade ago it is amazing the parallels to today. You have the liberal unions taking on the guns for hire conservatives of the Pinkertons. When Rockefeller testifies in front of Congress in defense of his shady business practices actually said he was just a figurehead at his own company during some illegal or just immoral times almost word for word excuses that Mitt Romney had when confronted about Bain Capital. But the most obvious parallel to these times was the election of 1896 where the Men Who Built America, in a rare bit of collusion, pulled their wealth together to buy the president, the difference being they actually were successful (that and the South voted for the Democrat while the Republican candidate swept New England). Ironically they were undone when their president was assassinated and his replacement brought anti-trust lawsuits against the big businesses at the time (which makes you wonder what modern day Roosevelt Republican will have the guts to brake up today’s too big to fail banks).
The Men Who Built America is a fascinating narrative on a period that is quickly rushed by near the end of the school year in history class. It is filled with plenty of fascinating tales, like how Carnegie recruited an elephant to prove that his bridge across the Mississippi, the largest at the time, was safe to travel across. Even funny at times, like Morgan and Rockefeller trading Christmas presents. And even horrifying like when Thomas Edison, as bankrolled by Morgan, invented the electric chair just to make his rival Nikola Tesla look bad. Which begs the question, when does Tesla get his own movie? He keeps showing up in during stories in this time period, ends up being the most interesting figure, but has never gotten the starring role himself.
The blu-ray (the press release who have me to believe the DVD version have the exact same features) features three disks with the first featuring the episodes A New War Begins, Oil Strike, A and Rivalry Is Born. The second hosts Blood Is Spilled, A New Rival Emerges, and Owning it All. The third disk has the final two episodes Taking the White House and The New Machine. Each disk features a couple never before seen on TV clips which combine to around twenty-six extra minutes.
Full Disclosure Notice: This Blu-ray was given to me by Lionsgate for review.