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History Unplugged Podcast
59 minutes | 2 days ago
Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s 1897 Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night
Polar exploration of the 19th century was the space travel of its day. There were moments of glory, like Ernest Shackleton’s heroic journeys to the Antarctic. There were moments of terror, such as Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in 1845 to discover the Northwest Passage, which likely ended in starvation, cannibalism, and death. But one journey that has been largely forgotten has one of the most important stories of all. That’s the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-1899.The Belgica was one of the first polar expeditions to Antarctica at the end of the 19th century. The voyage was meant to bring fame to all aboard the ship—and it certainly did, but at a very steep cost and not in quite the way the crew had imagined. Today’s guest is Julian Sancton, author of Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic NightThe Belgica would ultimately earn its fame as a harrowing survival story after the ship and her inhabitants—thanks to the deliberate decision of their captain—became trapped in the ice of the Bellingshausen sea. Surrounded on all sides by immovable sheets of ice, which threatened every day to crush the ship, the men of The Belgica were subjected to a months-long sentence of physical and mental anguish, becoming the first humans to confront the horrors of a completely sunless Antarctic winter. They survived the world’s most hostile environment and continue to teach the world about human extremes; those who do still remember The Belgica today are mainly the teams at NASA who study the lessons it offers on the physical and psychological limits of the human body as they look towards potential manned expeditions to Mars.
11 minutes | 6 days ago
Teaser: Key Battles of WW2 Pacific - The Rise Of Imperial Japan
Listen to this full episode by searching for "Key Battles of American History" in the podcast player of your choice or going to https://keybattlesofamericanhistory.com
40 minutes | 7 days ago
Gold Fever and Disaster in the Great Klondike Stampede of 1897-98.
In 1897, the United States was mired in the worst economic depression that the country had yet endured. When newspapers announced that gold was to be found in wildly enriching quantities at the Klondike River region of the Yukon, a mob of economically desperate Americans swarmed north. Within weeks, tens of thousands of them were embarking towards some of the harshest terrain on the planet, in the middle of winter, woefully unprepared and with no experience at all in mining or mountaineering. It was a mass delusion that quickly proved deadly: avalanches, shipwrecks, starvation, murder. Today’s guest is Brian Castner, author of STAMPEDE: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike. We discuss a number of characters who joined the Gold Rush, including Jack London, who would make his fortune but not in gold; Colonel Samuel Steele, who tried to save the stampeders from themselves; the notorious gangster Soapy Smith; goodtime girls; Skookum Jim; and the hotel entrepreneur Belinda Mulrooney. The unvarnished tale of this mass migration is always striking, revealing the amazing truth of what people will do for a chance to be rich.
68 minutes | 9 days ago
From the River to the Sea: The Railroad War of the 1870s that made the West
It is remarkable now to imagine, but during the 1870s, the American West, for all its cloud-topped peaks and endless coastline, might have been barren tundra as far as most Americans knew. In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad had made history by linking East and West, but, relying heavily on federal grants, it left an opening for two brash new railroad men, the Civil War hero behind the Rio Grande and the corporate chieftain of the Santa Fe, to build the first transcontinental to make money by creating a railroad empire across the Southwest to the sea. Today’s guest, John Sedwick, author of FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA: The Untold Story of the Railroad War that Made the West, is here to tell that story in detail. The railroad companies were governments on wheels: they set the course, chose the route, and built up cities and towns along their tracks. Their choices brought life to such out-of-the-way places as San Diego, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Denver, and to Los Angeles most of all: The Santa Fe turned a sleepy backwater of 30,000 into a booming metropolis of 150,000 in three years—the most explosive growth of any city in the history of the United States. By then, the two men behind the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe had fought all across the west to lay claim to the routes that would secure the most profitable territory and the richest silver mines. But they often led through narrow mountain passes or up treacherous canyons with room for only a single set of tracks. To win them, each side turned hundreds of their train workers into private armies backed by local militia and paid mercenaries like Dodge City’s Bat Masterson. The war left one of the two lines reeling in a death spiral and sent the other on to a greatness unequaled by any other railroad in the world.
40 minutes | 14 days ago
Lady Bird Johnson: The Most Underestimated – and Most Powerful? – First Lady of the 20th Century
In the spring of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson had a decision to make. Just months after moving into the White House under the worst of circumstances—following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—he had to decide whether to run to win the presidency in his own right. He turned to his most reliable, trusted political strategist: his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. The strategy memo she produced for him, emblematic of her own political acumen and largely overlooked by biographers, is just one revealing example of how their marriage was truly a decades-long political partnership.Today’s guest, Julia Sweig, author of “Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight,” argues that she was perhaps the most underestimated First Lady of the twentieth century. She was also one of the most accomplished and often her husband's secret weapon. Managing the White House in years of national upheaval, through the civil rights movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War, Lady Bird projected a sense of calm and, following the glamorous and modern Jackie Kennedy, an old-fashioned image of a First Lady. In truth, she was anything but. As the first First Lady to run the East Wing like a professional office, she took on her own policy initiatives, including the most ambitious national environmental effort since Teddy Roosevelt.We also discuss whether the office of the First Lady is a sign of vibrant American democracy or a source of neo-nepotism more fitting for the Royal Family.
37 minutes | 16 days ago
American Espionage Was Born in the Dark Taverns of Philadelphia
Philadelphia is often referred to as the birthplace of a nation, but it would also be fair to say that it was the birthplace of American espionage. Today’s guests, Keith Melton and Robert Wallace, author of Spy Sites of Philadelphia, discuss the city’s secret history from the nation’s founding to the present. Throughout the Revolutionary War, Patriot leaders included intelligence operations as a crucial element of the new government. George Washington was America’s first spymaster, deploying his agents to overcome the advantages of the British force. After the war, spy activity centered around the city’s port facilities and manufacturing plants. As political, diplomatic, and economic activity shifted from Philadelphia to New York and Washington, DC in the second half of the 20th century, the city remained a target first for Chinese and Soviet industrial spying and, later, for Islamic jihadist recruitment operations. Spies in Philadelphia have been putting their lives at risk to uncover enemy secrets and undertake deadly missions of disruption and sabotage for over two centuries.
42 minutes | 21 days ago
The Jazz Age tale of America’s First Gangster Couple, Margaret and Richard Whittemore
Before Bonnie and Clyde, there was another criminal couple capturing America’s attention. Baltimore sweethearts, Margaret and Richard Whittemore, made tabloids across the country as Tiger Girl and The Candy Kid during the 1920s for stealing millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds and precious gems along with Americans’ hearts. Todays guest, Glenn Stout, author of “Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid,” discuss the Whittemore’s Jazz Age exploits. This era is typically defined in terms of its glamour. But not everyone in 1920s America had it all. In the wake of world war, a pandemic, and an economic depression, Margaret and Richard Whittemore, two love-struck working-class kids, reached for the dream of a better life. The two would stop at nothing to get rich and headed up a gang that in less than a year stole over one million dollars’ worth of diamonds and precious gems - over ten million dollars today. Margaret was a chic flapper, the archetypal gun moll, right hand to her husband’s crimes. Richard was the quintessential bad boy, the gang’s cunning and muscle that allowed the Whittemores to live the kind of lives they’d only seen in the movies. Along the way he killed at least three men, until prosecutors managed a conviction. As tabloids across the country exclaimed the details of the couple’s star-crossed romance, they became heroes to a new generation of young Americans who sought their own version of freedom
10 minutes | 22 days ago
Announcement: Next Week James Early and I Launch "Key Battles of the Pacific Theatre (WW2)"
Good news! Next week James Early and I launch a 35-part series called Key Battles of the Pacific Theater (WW2). You won't hear it on this podcast but on James's new show called Key Battles of American History. You can find it on the podcast player of your choice, or go over to keybattlesofamericanhistory.com.
45 minutes | 23 days ago
For Centuries, America’s Best Friend in the Middle East Was…Iran?
As far back as America’s colonial period, educated residents were fascinated with Iran (or Persia, as it was known). The Persian Empire was subject of great admiration by Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. Iranians returned the favor. They thought the American model was an ideal one to copy for their own government. 19th century American missionaries helped build schools, hospitals, and libraries across Iran. Iran loved America far more than any other Western nation due to it not meddling in colonial affairs.So what happened? What all changed to the point that the United States helped overthrow Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953, and in 1979, Iranians held U.S. embassy staff hostage? Why does it seem that the only interaction the U.S. and Iran has regards the latent fear of a nuclear war?Today’s guest, John Ghazvinian, America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present, is here to get into the long history between the two nations. Drawing on years of archival research both in the United States and Iran--including access to Iranian government archives rarely available to Western scholars--the Iranian-born, Oxford-educated historian leads us through the four seasons of U.S.-Iran relations: the "spring" of mutual fascination; the "summer" of early interactions; the "autumn" of close strategic ties; and the long, dark "winter" of mutual hatred.He discusses why two countries that once had such heartfelt admiration for each other became such committed enemies; showing us, as well, how it didn't have to turn out this way.
45 minutes | a month ago
George Washington Became Great Because He Spent Years in the Political Wilderness as a Washed-Up Has-Been
By age twenty-two, George Washington was acclaimed as a hero. As a commander of the Virginia Regiment, he gave orders to men decades older than himself. He was good at most things he tried and his name was known throughout British North America and England. Yet his military career came to ashes when he was twenty-seven. He tumbled down in power and was reduced to arguing on a law in the Virginia House of Burgesses of the banning of pigs running loose. His life is a story of careful reinvention from early missteps, culminating in his unanimous election as the nation's first president. But how did Washington emerge from a military leader to the highest office in the country?Today’s guest, David Stewart – author of George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father, says that Washington has often been portrayed as less eloquent and politically savvy than peers, but his political skills were second to none. From Virginia's House of Burgesses, where Washington learned the craft and timing of a practicing politician, to his management of local government as a justice of the Fairfax County Court, to his eventual role in the Second Continental Congress and his grueling generalship in the American Revolution, Washington perfected the art of governing and service, earned trust, and built bridges. The lessons in leadership he absorbed along the way proved invaluable during the early years of the republic as he fought to unify the new nation. We look at five treacherous political minefields that Washington navigated in his career, including: • Bringing his army through a winter of despair at Valley Forge in 1778, while thwarting a combination to supersede him as commander in chief, then winning a crucial battle at the Monmouth Court House• Persuading mutinous, unpaid soldiers and officers to lay down their arms and embrace peace in 1783, then playing the crucial role in resolving the nation’s political chaos with a new constitution in 1787• Leading the new federal government as it was created from next to nothing, then guiding the bargain for a financial program that restored the nation’s credit and ensured its solvency• Keeping the nation out of the European war that followed the French Revolution, cooling passionate American adherents of both France and Britain• Struggling, in his final years, with human slavery, hoping to point his countrymen toward repentance and even redemption.
35 minutes | a month ago
The Nazi’s Granddaughter -- Discovering War Crimes in Your Family's Past
This episode looks at a deathbed promise from a daughter to a mother, which leads the daughter on a journey to write about her grandfather who was a famous war hero. But this journey had a terrible destination: the discovery that he was a Nazi war criminal.Today’s guest is the daughter -- Silvia Foti – author of the book “The Nazi’s Grandaughter." Her mother was dying and she wanted to preserve family history, so she asked Sylvia to write a book about Foti’s grandfather, Jonas Noreika, a famous WWII hero. Foti’s grandmother tries to intervene – begging her granddaughter not to write about her husband. “Just let history lie,” she whispered.Foti had no idea that in keeping her promise to her mother, her discoveries would bring her to a personal crisis, unearth Holocaust denial, and expose an official cover-up by the Lithuanian government that resulted in an internationally-followed lawsuit.Jonas Noreika was a Lithuanian known as General Storm. He led an uprising that won the country of Lithuania back from the communists, only to have it fall under Nazi control. He was an official during the Holocaust and chief of the second largest region in the country during the Nazi occupation, yet he became a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Foti set out to write a heroic biography about her famous grandfather. But as she dug ever deeper, she “encountered so much evidence proving my flesh and blood ‘hero’ was a Jew-killer, even I could no longer believe the lie.”
38 minutes | a month ago
The 15-Hour Work Week Was Standard For Nearly All of History. What Happened?
There’s nothing in human DNA that makes the 40-hour workweek a biological necessity. In fact, for much of human history, 15 hours of work a week was the standard, followed by leisure time with family and fellow tribe members, telling stories, painting, dancing, and everything else. Work was a means to an end, and nothing else. So what happened? Why does work today define who we are? It determines our status, and dictates how, where, and with whom we spend most of our time. It mediates our self-worth and molds our values. But are we hard-wired to work as hard as we do? Did our Stone Age ancestors also live to work and work to live? And what might a world where work plays a far less important role look like?To answer these questions, today’s guest James Suzman, author of Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots charts a grand history of "work" from the origins of life on Earth to our ever more automated present, challenging some of our deepest assumptions about who we are. Drawing insights from anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, zoology, physics, and economics, he shows that while we have evolved to find joy meaning and purpose in work, for most of human history our ancestors worked far less and thought very differently about work than we do now. He demonstrates how our contemporary culture of work has its roots in the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago. Our sense of what it is to be human was transformed by the transition from foraging to food production, and, later, our migration to cities. Since then, our relationships with one another and with our environments, and even our sense of the passage of time, have not been the same. Arguing that we are in the midst of a similarly transformative point in history, Suzman argues that automation might revolutionize our relationship with work and in doing so usher in a more sustainable and equitable future for our world.
48 minutes | a month ago
Low Troop Morale Can Literally Destroy a Nation. That’s Why the USO Was Formed in 1941.
A standing army is the most powerful force in a nation, but it can also threaten its very survival. That’s because you're taking a group of young men – those who are typically the core of your workforce and paying them to spend a majority of their time on bases doing nothing all day. Not only that, but you also pay them for the privilege. And if they get disgruntled or bored, riots, coups, or even revolutions can break out.The U.S. military has always understood the importance of troop morale, and a massive organization was formed to handle it in early 1941. On the eve of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to unite several service associations into one organization to lift morale of our military and nourish support on the home front. Those entities – the Salvation Army, the YMCA, YWCA, and others, became the United Service Organizations or, the USO. It was created to offer hospitality for traveling service members and their families. The trademark USO tours bring America and its celebrities to service members, most famously comedian Bob Hope. Today’s guest is JD Crouch, the CEO of USO. We discuss a brief history of the USO, how the organization was formed, why it was formed, and some interesting historical nuggets from WWII.We also get into the role of the USO supporting a racially segregated military and role of women in the military and the USO, and how the USO’s programming, services and entertainment have evolved – From serving coffee on the frontlines during WWII to providing WiFi today. Other stories that come up include Robin Williams being caught off guard by troops during revelry or an anecdote about USO staff being made honorary members of the Green Berets in Vietnam.
34 minutes | a month ago
Defining Treason – Why Are Founding Fathers Heroes But Confederate Leaders Not?
There is perhaps no other accusation as damning as ‘traitor.’ The only crime specifically defined in the Constitution, the term conjures notions of Benedict Arnold, hundreds of thousands of Civil War deaths, and our own worst fears about living in a country so starkly divided between Red and Blue. Clearly this tern needs clarification. That’s what today’s guest, UC Davis law professor Carlton F.W. Larson, author of ON TREASON: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law , is here to do. He offers an accessible look at the legal definition of treason, as opposed to the way it has recently been used for rhetorical mudslinging. We discuss how the law has historically been applied to the famous—and infamous—actions of people like John Brown, Tokyo Rose, Edward Snowden, Jane Fonda, and Aaron Burr, as well as the largely forgotten cases of men like Walter Allen and Hipolito Salazar, the only man executed by the federal government for treason since the end of the Revolutionary War. The varied stories provide snapshots of America at moments of danger: a nation terrified of an oncoming war at Harpers Ferry; in Hanoi, during a war that caused upheaval at home; and on the banks of the Hudson during the Revolution, a group of traitors from the Crown reeling from the treasonous actions of one of their own.
39 minutes | a month ago
“Fire Eaters” of the Confederacy: The Foot Soldiers of the South Who Made Secession Possible
The story of the American Civil War is typically told with particular interest in the national players behind the war: Davis, Lincoln, Lee, Grant, and their peers. However, the truth is that countless Americans on both sides of the war worked in their own communities to sway public perception of abolition, secession, and government intervention. In north Alabama, David Hubbard was an ardent and influential voice for leaving the Union, spreading his increasingly radical view of states' rights and the need to rebel against what he viewed as an overreaching federal government. You have likely never heard of Hubbard, the grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier who fought under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. He was much more than that stereotype of antebellum Alabama politicians, being an early speculator in lands coerced from Native Americans; a lawyer and cotton planter; a populist; an influential member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama; and a key promoter of the very first railroad built west of the Allegheny mountains. Today’s guest, Chris McIlwain, is author of The South's Forgotten Fire-Eater. We discuss the story of Hubbard's radicalization, describing his rise to becoming the most influential and prominent secessionist in north Alabama. Despite growing historical interest in the "fire eaters" who whipped the South into a frenzy, there has been little mention until now of Hubbard's integral involvement in Alabama's relationship with the Confederacy. But Hubbard's story is a cautionary tale of radical politics and its consequences.
39 minutes | 2 months ago
Witnessing The Final Destruction of Hitler’s War Machine
By mid-February 1945, the Wehrmacht had finally reached strategic bankruptcy. In January and February alone, it had lost 660,000 men. The Home Army lacked the weapons (including small arms) and ammunition to equip new divisions. In January, against a monthly demand for 1,500,000 tank and anti-tanks rounds, production fell to 367,000.Despite this hopeless position, with Russia within seventy miles of Berlin, Hitler planned another offensive in Hungary, using the 6th SS Panzer Army, which had been pulled out of the Ardennes in January. Hitler planned to envelop a large part of the 3rd Ukrainian Front between the Danube and the Drava, sweep across the Danube, recapture Budapest, and overrun eastern Hungary. Of course it failed. Hitler committed suicide in April and the army surrendered shortly after.How were Hitler’s forces finally defeated? What happened after the well-known Battle of the Bulge? That famed clash was not the end for Nazi Germany, yet the critical and horrific battles that followed and forced it into submission have rarely been adequately covered. Today’s guest is Samuel Mitcham, author of the new book The Death of Hitler’s War Machine: The Final Destruction of the Wehrmacht. We discuss how the once-dreaded Nazi military came to its cataclysmic end. Hitler’s army had risked all to win all on the Western Front with its surprise winter campaign in the Ardennes, the “Battle of the Bulge.” But when American and Allied forces recovered from their initial shock, the German Army, the Wehrmacht, was left fighting for its very survival—especially on the Eastern Front, where the Soviet Army was intent on matching, or even surpassing, Nazi atrocities.The Death of Hitler’s War Machine gives the detailed and little-known account of how the Wehrmacht—at the mercy of its own leader, the Führer—was brought to its bitter end. We discuss:•Hitler’s disastrous foreign policy that pitted the Wehrmacht against most of the world•How Hitler refused to acknowledge reality and forbade German retreats—essentially condemning the troops to death•Why the Wehrmacht was slowly annihilated in horrific battles, the most brutal of which was the Soviet siege of Budapest, which became known as “the Stalingrad of the Waffen-SS”•The loss of the air war, 1943–1944, which led to the devastation of German cities and the complete disruption of her industry and infrastructure
44 minutes | 2 months ago
The USS Plunkett: The Unsinkable Navy Destroyer That Fought at Manzio, D-Day, and Southern France
The USS Plunkett was a US Navy destroyer that sustained the most harrowing attack on any Navy ship by the Germans during World War II, that gave as good as it got, and that was later made famous by John Ford and Herman Wouk.Plunkett’s defining moment was at Anzio, where a dozen-odd German bombers bore down on the ship in an assault so savage, so prolonged, and so deadly that one Navy commander was hard-pressed to think of another destroyer that had endured what Plunkett had. After a three-month overhaul and with a reputation rising as the “fightin’est ship” in the Navy, Plunkett (DD-431) plunged back into the war at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and once again into battle during the invasion of Southern France – perhaps the only Navy ship to participate in every Allied invasion in the European theatre.Today's guest is James Sullivan, author of "Unsinkable: Five Men and the INdomitable Run of the USS Plunkett." Featuring five incredibly brave men — the indomitable skipper, who will receive the Navy Cross; the gunnery officer, who bucks the captain every step of the way to Anzio; a first lieutenant, who’s desperate to get off the ship and into the Pacific; a 17-year-old water tender, who’s trying to hold onto his hometown girl against all odds, and another water tender, who mans a 20mm gun when under aerial assault — the dramatic story of each plays out on the decks of the Plunkett as the ship’s story escalates on the stage of the Mediterranean.
47 minutes | 2 months ago
How Ex-Slaves Built New Lives for Themselves – and America – After the Civil War
After the massive devastation of the Civil War, America tried to rebuild itself, leading to the era of Reconstruction. Many hoped the South would peaceably re-enter the Union, slaves would enjoy full liberty as American citizens, and the United States would emerge stronger.But it didn’t happen this way.Thousands of freed slaves were kicked out of plantations, lived as war refugees, and arrested on charges of vagrancy. Others died of disease or starvation. Radical Republicans sought citizenship and full legal equality of black Americans, while Southerners sought segregation and white supremacy.But despite the challenges, many former slaves did incredible things building new lives. They opened business. They started churches. Others even began schools that became universities. To get into the Reconstruction era, today’s guest is Kidada Williams, a historian and author. She is host of the new show Siezing Freedom, which uses first-hand accounts from diaries, newspapers, speeches, and letters. We get into the challenges and triumphs of this era but also questions of what could have been done to make the Reconstruction era go right, if anything could have been done at all.
50 minutes | 2 months ago
George Washington’s Final (And Most Important?) Battle Was Uniting America By Building a New Capital
George Washington is remembered for leading the Continental Army to victory, presiding over the Constitution, and forging a new nation, but few know the story of his involvement in the establishment of a capital city and how it nearly tore the United States apart.Robert P. Watson, today’s guest and author of “George Washington’s Final Battle” discusses how the country's first president tirelessly advocated for a capital on the shores of the Potomac. Washington envisioned and had a direct role in planning many aspects of the city that would house the young republic. In doing so, he created a landmark that gave the fledgling democracy credibility, united a fractious country, and created a sense of American identity.Although Washington died just months before the federal government's official relocation, his vision and influence live on in the city that bears his name.This little-known story of founding intrigue throws George Washington's political acumen into sharp relief and provides a historical lesson in leadership and consensus-building that remains relevant today.
46 minutes | 2 months ago
Lessons Companies Should Learn From Mobsters' Business Practices
Every day, iconic brands like J.C. Penny, Sears, Kodak, and Blockbuster vanish. As entire lawful industries are disrupted out of existence, how have some organized criminal syndicates endured for nearly a century - despite billions of dollars of law enforcement opposition and ruthless rivals dedicated to their demise? In Relentless, Zimmerman and Forrester combine seventy-five years of Nobel Prize-winning economics research with insights from criminal prosecutors to examine how the Sinaloa Cartel, the American Mafia, the Hells Angels, the Crips, and the Bloods survive, and even thrive, whereas legal companies that play by the rules falter and often fail.All successful leaders—both lawful and unlawful—must follow the same fundamental economic principles: assign tasks, measure outcomes, reward performance, and cultivate corporate culture. Successful criminal enterprises construct their “Four Pillars" to create high-performance teams with a long-term focus, enduring corporate cultures, and strong brands. They attract the “right” people while purging “vampires” – individuals that take more from, rather than contribute to, an organization.Lawful managers cannot merely copy mobsters’ four pillars, but they can follow the underlying economic principles to construct relentless organizations.
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