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The Titans That Built America (A TV on DVD Review)

The Titans That Built America

The Complete Series (2021) (Lionsgate-2021)

The ubiquity of cable and streaming services like The History Channel and Discovery+ has led to the need for tons of content like this highly entertaining hybrid mini-series. It is not quite a historical drama – although most of the main characters are played by actors and there are some massive, very complex recreations of historical events, including multiple actors, many real and reimagined locations, period airplanes, automobiles and technology.

Yet, at the same time, it is not exactly a documentary series, for all the reasons listed above. This is even though it does use many features of documentaries. It mixes in regular bits of historical film footage, photos and audio. It is narrated straight through by actor Campbell Scott, and the story often has interspersed talking head experts from the worlds of industry, finance, academia, journalism and the military.

The Titans That Built America is essentially a series of three two-hour(-ish) programs following the lives and careers of five of the most important entrepreneurs of the early twentieth century, from their (sometimes) humble beginnings at the tail end of World War I, through the Roaring 20s, The Great Depression and to the end of World War II.

The “Titans” being surveyed are Pierre du Pont (du Pont Chemical and General Motors), Henry Ford Jr. (Ford Motor Company), William Boeing (Boeing Aerospace and United Airlines), J.P. Morgan Jr. (J.P. Morgan Financial) and Walter Chrysler (Chrysler Motor Company).

Other historical figures also play a big part here (and are also portrayed by actors), including Ford’s son Edsel, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, pilot Charles Lindbergh, photographer Margaret Bourke-White, and fellow execs Henry Kaiser (Kaiser Permanente), William Knudsen and John Raskob.

It is a fascinating look at the history of the first half of the century, how men with big ideas and big ideals changed the world. In fact, the final episode shows how these five businessmen played a huge, somewhat unsung part in winning World War II. In such a politically divided world, it is inspirational to see the titans – despite their many deep problems with FDR – banding together with him to help with the war effort. They put country first, instead of profit or politics. If only more people had that kind of patriotism today.

Occasionally The Titans slightly whitewashes the characters’ histories – Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism is only briefly acknowledged, they show but slightly soft-pedal Charles Lindbergh’s apparently pro-Nazi beliefs and the anti-union sentiments of the Titans are also discussed but never totally explored.

However, The Titans That Built America still shines a deserving light on the ingenuity that helped to make the country great.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: October 12, 2021.

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