This is the third in my series of posts about the five businessmen the History Channel profiled in a terribly inaccurate and un-historical miniseries titled The Men Who Built America. I’m writing these posts in response to several comments and e-mails from TV viewers who have expressed interest in a more accurate version of the story.
Post #3: Cornelius Vanderbilt, Age Twenty-Four to Thirty-Four
In last week’s post I described the first eight years of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s career, up to the point where he shut down his profitable shipping business and accepted a job as a steamboat captain. There were good reasons for this move, although Vanderbilt might have been the only person who could see them at the time. Vanderbilt, like all the really successful businessmen of the nineteenth century, had a knack for thinking strategically.
This is the second in my series of posts about the five businessmen the History Channel profiled in a terribly un-historical miniseries titled The Men Who Built America. You can click here to read Part 1.
Post #2: Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Early Career
The History Channel exaggerated Cornelius Vanderbilt’s role in the post-Civil War railroad industry to some extent. By 1968, the year where the History program really starts, Vanderbilt was in his mid-seventies and suffering from syphilis-related dementia, and his son William was for all intents and purposes running his businesses.
At any rate the really remarkable part of the Cornelius Vanderbilt story is the early years, when he started with nothing and achieved tremendous success.
The History Channel recently aired a dreadfully inaccurate mini-series called The Men Who Built America. It was billed as a historical account of the careers of businessmen Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, and Henry Ford; but it was basically all fiction.
I love America’s great rags-to-riches success stories, so I tuned in eagerly to see how the History people would tell them. After each of the four episodes I vented my disappointment by publishing a blog post exposing some of the more glaring inaccuracies. In my post about the last episode I lamented that an honest and accurate account of this era would have been far more entertaining that the fiction History put on the air.
The History Channel aired the third installment of its The Men Who Built America series Tuesday, and, like the first two, this episode was less than accurate. In my review of the first episode I describe the many creative liberties the producers took in their efforts to jazz up the stories for a television audience. The second part of this four part series was even more inaccurate, just “fiction in a period setting.”
The third part is not as completely un-historical as the second, but there are several places where accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of drama.
The History Channel aired the first episode of its “The Men Who Built America” series last week, and I tuned in eagerly to watch it.
The series will profile the careers of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, oil man John D. Rockefeller, steel maker Andrew Carnegie, investment banker JP Morgan, and car maker Henry Ford. The opening episode focuses on Vanderbilt and Rockefeller.
As my regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs who have gone from rags to riches in this country. I’ve read dozens of books about this era in American history, including biographies of most of the primary and secondary characters in this series. If rock stars have their groupies, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller have me.