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Monday, October 26 at 9 p.m. – American Experience: The 1930s

(Rochester, NY) –They were years of uncertainty, perseverance and hope. An economic crisis unlike any before — fueled by stock market manipulation, flowing credit and a real-estate bubble — swept across the nation. Unemployment was soaring; consumer confidence falling. On the horizon, an environmental catastrophe loomed if humanity refused to accept nature’s limits. In the White House, a newly elected president championed a bold stimulus plan to revitalize the economy, including an innovative proposal to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in environmental conservation.

PBS’ American Experience presents The 1930s, a five-part series that examines the political and cultural life of America during one of history’s most tumultuous decades. Beginning with the stock market crash of 1929, the series looks at the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the construction of the Hoover Dam, the impact of the catastrophic drought that transformed the plains into a Dust Bowl and an unlikely hero that gave downtrodden Americans hope: Seabiscuit. American Experience: The 1930s starts Monday, October 26 at 9 p.m. and continues through November 23 on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable11).

The Crash of 1929 (10/26) – In the “roaring twenties,” while the stock market was rising, there were few critics. It was a “new era” when everyone could get rich. Wall Street leaders such as Charles Mitchell, president of the National City Bank (which would become Citibank), stock specialist Michael Meehan and Jesse Livermore, a Wall Street insider, found new ways to manipulate the stock market and grew incredibly wealthy, helping create the economic boom of that fabulous decade. Their success made them folk heroes of the day. The upward climb of the market seemed limitless, but in October 1929, the market plunged, taking with it the finances of the Wall Street titans and everyday investors alike. Philip Bosco narrates.  

Civilian Conservation Corps (11/2) – In March 1933, within weeks of his inauguration, President Franklin Roosevelt sent legislation to Congress aimed at providing relief for the one out of every four American workers who were unemployed. He proposed a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide jobs in natural resource conservation. Over the next decade, the CCC put more than three million young men to work in the nation’s forests and parks, planting trees, building flood barriers, fighting fires and maintaining roads and trails. Corps workers lived in camps under quasi-military discipline and received a wage of $30 per month, $25 of which they were required to send home to their families. This program interweaves rich archival imagery with the personal accounts of CCC veterans to tell the story of one of the boldest and most popular New Deal experiments, positioning it as a pivotal moment in the emergence of modern environmentalism and federal unemployment relief.  

Hoover Dam (11/9) – Rising more than 700 feet above the raging waters of the Colorado River, it was called one of the greatest engineering works in history. Hoover Dam, built during the Great Depression, drew men desperate for work to a remote and rugged canyon near Las Vegas. There they struggled against heat, choking dust and perilous heights to build a colossus of concrete that brought electricity and water to millions and transformed the American Southwest. Peter Coyote narrates.

Surviving the Dust Bowl (11/16) – They were called “Black Blizzards,” dark clouds reaching miles into the sky, churning millions of tons of dirt into torrents of destruction. For 10 years, beginning in 1930, dust storms ravaged the parched and overplowed southern plains, turning bountiful wheat fields into desert. Disease, hardship and death followed, yet the majority of people stayed on, steadfastly refusing to give up on the land and a way of life. Liev Schreiber narrates.

Seabiscuit (11/23) – He was boxy, with stumpy legs that wouldn’t completely straighten, a short straggly tail and an ungainly gait; though he didn’t look the part, Seabiscuit was one of the most remarkable thoroughbred racehorses in history. In the 1930s, when Americans longed to escape the grim realities of Depression-era life, four men turned Seabiscuit into a national hero. They were his fabulously wealthy owner Charles Howard, his famously silent and stubborn trainer Tom Smith and the two hard-bitten, gifted jockeys who rode him to glory. By following the paths that brought these four together and in telling the story of Seabiscuit’s unlikely career, this film illuminates the precarious economic conditions that defined America in the 1930s and explores the fascinating behind-the-scenes world of thoroughbred racing. Scott Glenn narrates.

The screenplay, by Paula Milne, is based on the book The Fall of Apartheid by Robert Harvey.
Credit: The Granger Collection, New York

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