American Experience: Season 11 (1998 - 1999)

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Season 11
American Experience

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Episodes

Air date: Nov 18, 1998

America in 1900 is explored. Examined are "emblematic events of the year," says producer David Grubin, including the mine disaster in Scofield, Utah; the rebellion in the Philippines against occupying American troops; and the murders of American missionaries in China during the Boxer Rebellion. David McCullough narrates.

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Air date: Jan 11, 1999

This two-hour documentary uncovers the U.S.-Soviet race to build the hydrogen bomb and describes the fear of destruction that ensued. More powerful than the atomic bomb, the hydrogen fusion (or "super") bomb was used as a political weapon during the Cold War. This documentary also shows the tension among American scientists of the time: Inventor Edward Teller defended the bomb as a deterrent against Soviet attack, while Robert Oppenheimer denounced it purely as a weapon for mass destruction. It was the Americans who, in 1952, tested the first super bomb; its power a thousand times greater than the atomic bomb, it vaporized an entire island in the Pacific. Eighteen months later the Soviet team exploded their first H-bomb. The nuclear arms race had begun.

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Air date: Jan 18, 1999

Built in the midst of the Great Depression under dangerous working conditions, the Hoover Dam has been described as one of the world's greatest engineering feats. American Experience: Hoover Dam is a 60-minute historical documentary that chronicles the dam's construction. Archival footage shows workers fighting intense heat, unrelenting dust, and dizzying heights as they pieced together the structure that would bring electricity to the American West. Program highlights include interviews with historians and witnesses as well as a comprehensive description of the engineering problems associated with the project.

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Air date: Feb 8, 1999

This PBS program reviews many of Admiral Richard E. Byrd's outstanding accomplishments. As this program reveals, Byrd was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who gained critical flying experience during World War I. He made the first successful flight over the North Pole in 1926, before being financed by the U.S. government to make the first of several expeditions to Antarctica. Interviews with historians help bring Byrd's life into clear focus.

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Air date: Feb 15, 1999

David McCullough narrates this heroic story of Jack Binns, a courageous young man who attempts to save the lives of more than 1,500 people trapped aboard a sinking ship. Jack Binns learned the art of wire-tapping when he was only a boy and by the time he was 26 he was working for the White Star Liner. Wireless tapping was not seen as a security measure until January 23, 1909, when two ships collided off of Nantucket Island due to dense fog. Listen to Binns' own recollection of the next 24 hours, as he endured the Atlantic cold, transmitting messages. This documentary includes interviews with the descendents of the passengers and crew that were on the sinking ship. Matthew Broderick provides the voice of Jack Binns.

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Air date: Feb 22, 1999

Just days after Hollywood released The China Syndrome, a film about the possible meltdown of a nuclear power plant, life closely imitated art and a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility near Harrisburg, PA, suddenly overheated. Tension, panic, and fear embroiled the area for a week as scientists scrambled to prevent a nuclear meltdown. It was the worst nuclear accident in American history. More than 100,000 residents fled the area. Narrated by Liev Schreiber, American Experience: Meltdown at Three Mile Island carefully re-examines step-by-step this national disaster which still haunts many Americans, and which dealt a crippling blow to the nation's nuclear power industry.

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Air date: Apr 5, 1999

John Wesley Powell was a Civil War veteran dedicated to surveying one of the last uncharted territories in the United States: the Grand Canyon. His expedition established the Grand Canyon as a national landmark and -- not without scrutiny -- changed the country's attitude toward the West. American Experience: Lost in the Grand Canyon is an account of one man's journey to discover one of the last Great Unknowns. The beauty of the Grand Canyon was only matched by the dangers it presented to surveyors. Despite the perils, Powell achieved his mission.

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Air date: Apr 12, 1999

This poignant and carefully-researched documentary takes a stark look at the harsh realities behind the oft-romanticized view of the Depression-era hobo. The filmmakers got their stories from the reminiscences of 10 former vagabonds and archival footage to create an accurate, at times wrenching, view of the wanderer's struggle to survive.

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Air date: May 24, 1999

From 1942 to 1944, in the midst of World War II, more than 1,000 women were "trained to ferry aircraft, test planes, instruct male pilots, even tow targets for anti-aircraft artillery practice." Thirty-eight would give their lives. American Experience: Fly Girls is the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) featuring a group of former WASPs who recall the glory and the challenges they met as groundbreaking sky soldiers in America's war effort. American Experience: Fly Girls charts the course of this unique time in America's history that defied the definition of women's work. From the program's inception by female aviator Jacqueline Cochran to the attempts of sabotage and resentment as well as a lack of benefits and provisions afforded to the WASPs' male counterparts, American Experience: Fly Girls illustrates the early points of contention over women's role in the armed forces that echo even today.

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Air date: May 17, 1999

Part 1 of a two-part biography of Douglas MacArthur takes "America's first soldier" from his brilliant WWI service into WWII, when his knack for alienating superiors hindered his "return" to the Philippines. Interviewed: biographer Geoffrey Perret; historian Stephen Ambrose; Gen. Vernon Walters (USA Ret.).

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