American Innovations

By Wondery

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Subscribers: 1737
Reviews: 10

Jesse
 Mar 31, 2020
Excellent. A great huge breath of fresh air!

Stuart Mantel
 Mar 17, 2020
Long form history of the development of a technology we take for granted today.

Nicolina
 Feb 26, 2020
I've never in my life had any interest in history. And yet I can't express enough how much I love this podcast. It is captivating and makes me connected to times from before I was born which is astonishingly unexpected.


 Feb 2, 2020

Leftfielder
 Jan 19, 2020

Description

DNA science. Artificial intelligence. Smartphones and 3D printers. Science and technology have transformed the world we live in. But how did we get here? It wasn’t by accident. Well, sometimes it was. It was also the result of hard work, teamwork, and competition. And incredibly surprising moments.

Hosted by bestselling author Steven Johnson (“How We Got To Now”), American Innovations uses immersive scenes to tell the stories of the scientists, engineers, and ordinary people behind the greatest discoveries of the past century. From Wondery, the network behind Business Wars, American History Tellers, and Dirty John.


Episode Date
Dynamite: The Controlled Explosion | 1
00:34:14

In 1846, an Italian chemist discovered the volatile compound nitroglycerine, the first major breakthrough in creating man-made explosions since the invention of gunpowder a thousand years earlier. But almost everyone who experiments with the compound thinks it’s too dangerous for any commercial application–everyone except for one brooding, obsessed young Swedish inventor named Alfred Nobel. 

Nobel dreams of harnessing the chemical’s power to ignite an engineering revolution: blasting railway tunnels, digging out mines and canals…. But as Nobel’s quest to tame nitroglycerine becomes increasingly central to his family’s livelihood, it also repeatedly puts his own life in danger.

Apr 02, 2020
Fighting Coronavirus: How Can We Protect City Life? | 1
00:26:49

When public health is threatened on a mass scale, we have a long history of working together to take on the challenge. On this new weekly series, Steven will speak with experts from the worlds of health and technology about how the current moment compares with past pandemics, and what the coming months might look like. 

On this episode, Steven talks with Richard Florida, a bestselling author on cities and urban rebirth. The population density of cities has always been key to driving new ideas, new collaborations, and new social movements. But today, as the coronavirus spreads, that density is creating danger. How can cities protect their way of life, and how they can come out of this crisis even stronger than before?

New episodes of “Fighting Coronavirus” will publish here every Tuesday, or you can listen and subscribe at https://wondery.com/shows/fighting-coronavirus/

Read Richard Florida and Steven Pedigo’s 10-Point Preparedness Plan for Cities.

Mar 31, 2020
Bruce Gellin On How COVID-19 Could Change Vaccine Development | 6
00:25:37

As the first in a series on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Steven Johnson speaks with Dr. Bruce Gellin, president of Global Immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington D.C.. Dr. Gellin is also a former director of the National Vaccine Program at the Department of Health and Human Services, and led the creation of HHS’s first pandemic influenza preparedness and response plan. They talk about a very new and pressing challenge: how to speed up vaccine development for COVID-19.

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Mar 26, 2020
Introducing Joe Exotic: Tiger King
00:05:41

Joe Exotic devoted his life to raising and breeding lions, tigers, and other exotic animals at his Oklahoma zoo. He croons ballads, shoots guns, and puts it all on YouTube. But he’s also made a lot of enemies. And the biggest of all is the owner of a big cat sanctuary in Florida named Carole Baskin. The feud between Joe Exotic and Carole gets messy, vicious, and outrageous -- until both of them are pushed far beyond their limits. From Wondery, comes ‘Joe Exotic: Tiger King’, the story about two people who want to save animals and destroy each other. This series was previously released as the second season of "Over My Dead Body." But on the new feed, we'll also be releasing never-before-aired, exclusive interviews and details with some of the most fascinating characters in this saga. For the full episode go to: wondery.fm/AIjoeexotic.

Mar 24, 2020
Organ Transplant: The Heart Race | 3
00:44:58

In 1967, an unlikely surgeon performs the first human heart transplant – and shocks the world. As others race to replicate his achievement, one surgical team makes a mistake that could spell the end of organ transplants in the United States.


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Mar 19, 2020
Organ Transplant: A Matter of Life and Death | 2
00:36:52

By the early 1960s, surgeons have proven that it's possible to transplant kidneys and lungs. Now, with heart disease still the leading cause of death, they've set their sights on performing the first human heart transplant. But first, they've got to overcome the ethical, legal, and surgical challenges of removing a donor's heart before it stops beating for good.

Mar 12, 2020
Organ Transplant: The Kidney Twins | 1
00:42:50

A century ago, organ transplants were the stuff of science fiction. But a handful of experimental surgeons believed that transplants were not just possible – they had the potential to save thousands of lives. Then, in 1954, a man agreed to donate his kidney to his twin brother – and one surgeon finally got his chance to prove the doubters wrong.

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Mar 05, 2020
NBC News presents Into America
00:07:00

A new podcast about politics, about policy, and the power that both have in shaping the lives of the American people. Into America is hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Trymaine Lee, and features the journalists of NBC News.

For the first episode, Trymaine heads to East New York, a community that experienced more stops than any other part of New York City under Former Mayor Bloomberg’s stop and frisk policy. In order to have a real shot at the Democratic nomination, Bloomberg needs the support of Black voters. Days before announcing his candidacy, Bloomberg apologized for the policing tactic. But will his past decision to champion the use of stop and frisk hurt his chances? 

Subscribe to Into America now: http://wondery.fm/intoamerica


Mar 02, 2020
Valium: Mother’s Little Helper | 3
00:39:58

Within 10 years of Valium’s introduction, people are starting to realize it’s not quite as harmless as they had been led to believe. Patients are building up a tolerance to it, taking stronger and stronger dosages, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they quit. Women, who have been prescribed Valium at twice the rates men have, spearhead the fight to increase regulation.

When former First Lady Betty Ford announces her own addiction to Valium, the public outcry against the drug finally causes the government to act. They hold days of hearings and tighten up the rules around prescribing the medication, but more importantly, Valium’s reputation is severely damaged.

But decades later, doctors start to wonder if the backlash went too far….


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Feb 20, 2020
Valium: The House That Leo Built | 2
00:37:52

With Miltown sweeping the nation, pharmaceutical companies around the country want in on the action and vie to create their own versions. At Hoffman La Roche, a brilliant scientist by the name of Leo Sternbach leads the charge.  

 

While Roche executives want him to create a copycat drug, Sternbach has bigger ambitions: he wants to invent an entirely new class of tranquilizer. After Roche loses faith in his vision, Sternbach continues his work in secret – and lays the foundation for Valium, soon to become the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States.


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Feb 13, 2020
Valium: Miltown Magic | 1
00:39:31

Anxiety. It’s something everyone experiences at some point in their lives, but for centuries doctors had no effective way to treat it. They could send patients on rest cures, order them to do nothing at all, or prescribe barbiturates that depressed the central nervous system, easily leading to overdose and death.

Finally, in the mid-1950s, chemists discovered a new class of drugs: the minor tranquilizers. The most famous of these was Valium, which would go on to become the most prescribed drug in the United States.  

But Valium owes its success to its lesser known predecessor Miltown, which changed the way Americans thought about anxiety.

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Feb 06, 2020
Electronic Television: The TVs of The Future | 3
00:27:56

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, television manufacturer LG debuted a TV set that rolls up like a poster. It's a far cry from our grandparents wooden boxes with black and white screens and bunny ear antennas. And despite impressive new television tech, many people these days are turning to phones and tablets to consume their favorite shows and moves. Today we conclude our series on the television with Susan Murray, Professor or Media, Culture and Communication at NYU. She joins us talk about the history and evolution of the television in our everyday life.

Jan 30, 2020
Electronic Television: A Great Depression And The World's Fair | 2
00:41:30

While Philo Farnsworth was building gizmos out of a loft in San Francisco, the Radio Corporation of America was already plotting domination of the yet-to-be television industry under the leadership of a man named David Sarnoff. Sarnoff recognized television’s virtually limitless potential, and he was determined to bring it to the masses — with or without the help of Philo Farnsworth. 


Sarnoff would rely on inventors like Vladimir Zworykin, who had also figured out how to transmit pictures electronically through his patented Iconoscope. At least, in theory. The missing piece wouldn’t fall into place until Zworykin visited Farnsworth’s lab — setting off a court battle to claim ownership of one of the most iconic inventions of the 20th century.


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Jan 23, 2020
Electronic Television: The Picture Radio | 1
00:38:57

The invention of the electronic television was uniquely complicated for its time. So complicated, in fact, that the prevailing narrative is that it couldn’t have been invented by a single person -- let alone Philo Farnsworth. 


After all, some of the most brilliant minds in the world spent the first quarter of the 20th century working on television systems -- and some even managed to transmit images. But none of those systems were ever able to deliver the quality of images they’d need to be commercially viable. None except Philo Farnsworth, a farm boy from Utah, who got the idea for television when he was fourteen years old. 


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Jan 16, 2020
The Year in Innovation | 6
00:42:29

It's a new year and a new decade, and that means a lot of new innovation and tech to look forward to. But, as we wonder what the future has in store, it's important to look back at the past year and what it has taught us. Author Clive Thompson joins us to talk about the innovations that caught his attention in 2019 and what he's looking forward to in 2020 and beyond.

Jan 09, 2020
Kodak Roll Film: Brownie Boom | 3
00:38:37

After George Eastman cut ties with his chief emulsion-maker-turned-saboteur, Henry Reichenbach, the Kodak company started to falter. Some batches of film literally fell apart on the shelves. Others seemed fine, but yielded blurry, unprintable photos.

Eastman had tried to find a suitable replacement for Reichbach, but no one was able to make a stable emulsion at the volume he needed. Eastman was starting to get desperate.

He knew that if he didn’t fix his film fast, his Kodak cameras would never amount to more than a passing fad. Eastman wasn’t just looking to get rich and get out. He was after a legacy that would stand the test of time. In order to do that, Eastman would not only have to make his product reliable, he’d have to continually innovate — constantly turning out one new demographically-targeted product after another. In the end, this strategy would make Kodak a household name, and then doom it to obsolescence.


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Dec 12, 2019
Kodak Roll Film: Kodak Fiends | 2
00:36:50

George Eastman had made technological breakthroughs and forays into the photography market, but his images still weren’t good enough for professional photographers and the photographic process was still too complicated for recreational photographers. 

Eastman needed to improve his product and simplify his process, but he couldn’t do it alone. His novice chemistry skills had already carried the company as far as they could go. So Eastman reached out to a gifted chemist for help, and made his company vulnerable in ways greater than he had feared.


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Dec 05, 2019
Kodak Roll Film | As Convenient as a Pencil | 1
00:35:48

Today, if we want to take a photo, we unlock our phone, aim, and click.  It can be done on a whim, without a second thought. We document everything from new haircuts to latte art, cute cats to baby’s first smile.  But prior to the 1900s, photography was the exclusive domain of professionals and dedicated hobbyists -- people willing to learn complex skills and spend hours on the craft.

Responsible for that shift was a man named George Eastman. Armed with a radical vision for what photography could be, and a cold-blooded business sense, Eastman delivered photography to the masses and altered the way most of us experience our lives over time.


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Nov 28, 2019
The Modern Ambulance | 1
00:43:17

Today, if you or someone you know experiences a medical emergency, you dial 9-1-1 and a squad of trained medical professionals arrives at your door.  But just 55 years ago, that was not the case.

Emergency calls were generally dispatched to funeral homes simply because their vehicles were suited to transporting bodies. You’d be lucky if the person transporting you had any first aid training at all. A soldier shot in Vietnam had a better chance of surviving than a housewife in a car accident  because the soldier in Vietnam got immediate trained medical care.

Throughout the 1960s, volunteer rescue squads  began experimenting with different kinds of pre-hospital care. But in Pittsburgh, 20th century topography converged with the fates of a few individuals, and one ambitious vision, to spin a medical revolution into being.


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Nov 21, 2019
Google's Quantum Breakthrough
00:30:18

In October, Google announced in a paper in the journal Nature that it built a chip called "Sycamore" that achieved what is known as "quantum supremacy." It's being hailed as a massive step forward in the world of quantum computing. Quantum computing's principles lie in the fascinating world of quantum mechanics, and while it is extremely complicated to understand, the theoretical applications of a quantum computer could have a massive real-world impact. We'll talk with Scott Aaronson, the David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin, and director of its Quantum Information Center, about Google's discovery. Aaronson reviewed Google's paper before it was published and has worked for years on these complex problems.


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Nov 14, 2019
Electric Chair | A Matter of Light and Death | 3
00:39:00

In the summer of 1888, just as the electric chair controversy was unfolding, Nikola Tesla moved to Pittsburgh to work for George Westinghouse, fulfilling a year-long commitment he made when Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s AC motor patents.

The deal would make Tesla a millionaire, but it would ultimately threaten to topple Westinghouse’s business.


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Oct 31, 2019
Electric Chair | The War Becomes Electric | 2
00:40:46

After his unceremonious departure from Edison Electric, Nikola Tesla found himself broke and dejected, but more determined than ever to share his alternating current system with the world. And thanks to the help of one man who really believes in his work -- a man with vision, money and power -- he’ll soon have his chance.

Tesla has Edison in his sites, and the Current War is about to get deadly.


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Oct 24, 2019
Electric Chair | War of the Currents | 1
00:44:52

On August 6, 1890, a prisoner named William Kemmler became the first man executed in the electric chair. It was designed to be a more humane form of execution, but the gruesome scene in the death chamber that day revealed the device to be anything but. 

Still, the chair stuck around. And Kemmler’s execution proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of capital punishment. But if you pull back just slightly, you’ll see that the story of the electric chair was just one small chapter in another story — a much larger story — that would come to define the world we live in.

This other story involved three titans of innovation—Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse — locked in a desperate fight for control of the future of electricity.  Their conflict would take lives, spark scientific advances and revolutionize human existence. And it would come to be called the War of the Currents. 


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Oct 17, 2019
Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret| Falling Back to Earth | 3
00:39:41

The resourcefulness of NASA’s engineers and Skylab’s first crew helped save the space station from near disaster. Now, as the station’s second crew settles into their fifty-nine day mission, another kind of crisis is about to threaten Skylab—one that has nothing to do with the hazards of space travel.

In the fall of 1973, the United States is struggling. Gas prices are skyrocketing thanks to an oil embargo. The Vietnam War is dragging on, costing thousands of American lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. In the White House, Richard Nixon’s presidency is hanging by a thread, as details of the Watergate scandal leak out. 

Against this backdrop, public interest in the U.S. space program is waning — and with it, Congress’s will to continue funding it. Now, faced with deep budget cuts, NASA may have no choice but to bring its space station program to a premature end.


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Oct 10, 2019
Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret| We Fix Anything | 2
00:39:08

Skylab was NASA’s underdog — a cobbled-together  program that lived in the shadow of the Apollo moon landings. But with the last of those moon landings completed in December of 1972, it was finally Skylab’s time to shine.

That is, until launch. Now the eighty-ton space station is in orbit, but it’s badly damaged — possibly uninhabitable. And the timing couldn’t be worse. With America in the midst of a recession, politicians’ patience for NASA’s huge budgets is wearing thin. If Skylab turns out to be a two billion dollar boondoggle, it could set the entire American space program back decades.


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Oct 03, 2019
Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret| Apollo’s Leftovers | 1
00:39:02

Fifty years ago, America’s space program achieved its greatest triumph, when Apollo Eleven put the first men on the moon.

The Apollo program was a remarkable success story. But as NASA was sending men to the moon, they were engaged in another, less celebrated project — one even more important than the moon landings to humanity’s potential future in space. That project was called Skylab — America’s first space station.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Skylab. If you know anything about it at all, you know that after it was launched into orbit, it came crashing back down to Earth. But before that crash, Skylab taught NASA more things about living and working in space than any program before it.

So why did one of the engineers who worked on Skylab once call it “the little redheaded bastard out behind the barn”? Why do so many accounts of NASA’s achievements barely mention it? Why have most Americans never heard of America’s first space station?


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Sep 26, 2019
Sex, Cereal, and Nut Milks - The Complicated Legacy of the Kelloggs | 4
00:29:35

We conclude our series on Corn Flakes with Howard Markel author of "The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek." Markel joins us to talk about how he discovered the Kellogg's story and how their innovations changed the world of medicine, business, and of course, what we eat for breakfast today. 


Sep 12, 2019
Corn Flakes | Kellogg vs Kellogg | 3
00:39:21

Now that Will has officially left the San, it would seem his days of servitude and humiliation are finally over. But John has no intention of leaving him in peace.

As Will forges ahead with his groundbreaking cereal business, John resorts to desperate measures to make sure he’ll never have to share the spotlight with his brother. Even if it ends up costing him everything. 


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Sep 05, 2019
Corn Flakes | Crunch Time | 2
00:40:27

After missing the chance to buy the rights to Shredded Wheat, the Kellogg brothers are on a quest to make toasted wheat flakes the leader of the breakfast revolution.

The cereal they make would change the culinary landscape of the country—and push their relationship to the breaking point. 


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Aug 29, 2019
Corn Flakes | The Brothers of Battle Creek | 1
00:40:36

For the first 150 years of American history, American citizens were plagued by gastrointestinal issues. Diarrhea, gastritis and dysentery were pretty much a way of life. Indigestion was such an immense problem, the poet Walt Whitman called it “the Great American Evil.” 

All these stomach issues were thanks, in part, to breakfast—which looked very different than it does today.  Roast pork, pickled vegetables and thick gruel were common staples on the American breakfast table. That is, until two brothers — John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg — invented a ready-to-eat dry cereal that changed American commerce, medicine, and the way we eat even as it locked the brothers in a vitriolic battle that would last their entire lives. 


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Aug 22, 2019
The Heimlich Maneuver | 1
00:43:45

In the 1960s, choking was a national epidemic. In the United States alone, close to 4,000 people were dying from choking every year.  Lobster, ham, and hamburger were common culprits. But steak was by far the greatest offender. 

Coroners called for a solution to these “Cafe Coronaries,” and the medical community responded with weird and dangerous gadgets: vacuum tubes and long tweezers. But Dr. Henry Heimlich knew this problem required something else; a simple technique that anyone can use to save the lives of choking victims—the Heimlich Maneuver. 

The Heimlich Maneuver would save the lives of thousands of people, including Carrie Fisher, Cher, New York Mayor Ed Koch, and at least one American President. And yet, Dr. Heimlich would spend a decade fighting for the legitimacy of his life-saving maneuver. 


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Aug 15, 2019
Author Jason Torchinsky Talks Our Autonomous Future | 3
00:33:30

The first mass rollout of robots into mainstream life won’t be humanoid machines designed to clean our homes or mow our lawns. It will be our cars. That’s what author Jason Torchinsky argues in his book “Robot, Take the Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving.” Torchinsky, senior editor at Jalopnik.com joins us to talk about why building truly autonomous vehicles is a lot more complicated than we think.

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Aug 08, 2019
Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Shifting Gears | 2
00:42:42

The DeLorean was going to change the automotive industry. Designed to be fast, fuel-efficient, durable and affordable, it was going to be the first ethical sports car. It was going to break Detroit’s monopoly on car manufacturing and bring stability to Ireland’s fragile economy. 

So what went wrong? And what can we learn from it?


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Aug 01, 2019
Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Driven to Succeed | 1
00:40:24

Normally on American Innovations, we look at the history of the science and technology that transformed the world we live in. These stories teach us about the vision, grit, competition, and teamwork required to conquer new frontiers and forge new pathways to the future. But equally valuable, perhaps, are the stories of those visionary innovators who seemed poised for greatness, who aimed for the stars, and then fell, crashing spectacularly back to earth.

In this series, we’ll examine one of the greatest failures in automotive history: the life and work of John DeLorean, the maverick engineer whose technical achievements seemed destined for the history books, among the likes of Henry Ford and Elon Musk. But instead, he became known for his dramatic demise. 


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Jul 25, 2019
Biologist Timothy Mousseau Can’t Stop Going Back To Chernobyl | 4
00:26:53

Radioactive bugs, birds, and dogs: these are a few of biologist Timothy Mousseau’s favorite things. Though the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and neighboring Pripyat have sat largely abandoned for over 30 years, Mousseau has been back more than 50 times. Radiation levels vary inside the evacuation zone — perfect conditions he says to observe its effects on the creatures that call the area home.


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Jul 04, 2019
The Birth Control Pill | Paradise and the Pill | 3
00:41:13

Since its launch, the birth control project had faced one obstacle after another. And over the year and a half that they’d been working, they had managed to solve all of their problems, except one: recruiting test subject for human trials.

Birth control was still illegal in the US, so they couldn’t advertise the study, and if they couldn’t advertise, they couldn’t recruit subjects. At the time, the problem seemed insurmountable. But then, while on vacation, Dr. Gregory Pincus found the solution to his recruitment problem: Puerto Rico. 

Birth control was legal on the island, and more importantly, the women were desperate for an answer to their population problem. There was no doubt in Pincus’s mind: these clinical trials would cement the project’s place in history. And he was right. The trials for the birth control pill would come to be known as one of the most controversial studies in the history of American medicine. 


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Jun 27, 2019
The Birth Control Pill | A Matter of Money | 2
00:41:29

In 1951, Dr. Gregory Pincus was on the verge of a breakthrough. He had successfully halted ovulation in rabbits and mice; now the project was finally ready for human trials. Only problem was, they had run out of money. Both Pincus and Margaret Sanger had tapped all of their respective resources. If there was any hope for the birth control pill, they'd need a big influx of cash—fast.

That’s when Katharine McCormick entered the picture.


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Jun 20, 2019
The Birth Control Pill | But Can It Be Done? | 1
00:40:56

When Margaret Sanger opened her birth control clinic in 1916, she knew she was breaking the law. Distributing contraceptives, or even literature about birth control, was a jailable offense. But she didn’t care. As a nurse, Sanger had sworn to devote herself to the welfare of those in her community. And in the early 1900s, that meant doing something about the public health crisis caused by unplanned pregnancies.

At the turn of the century, many women were having babies with no break in between pregnancies. It put them at risk for anemia, and uterine ruptures. Miscarriages were common. Of the children that were born, one in five died during the first five years of life.

To Sanger, the solution was clear: a safe, effective, discrete contraceptive for women—a pill, no bigger than an aspirin. At the time, the idea seemed more radical than putting a man on the moon. And in some ways, developing it would be even more difficult.


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Jun 13, 2019
Molly Wood: In A Changing Climate, How Can Tech Help Us Survive? | 4
00:45:50

Molly Wood has spent two decades covering the tech industry. As the host of “Marketplace Tech,” she demystifies the digital economy and how the world of business and tech influences us in unexpected ways. She came on the show to talk about why she’s drawn to tech world, and the role of tech in one of the biggest issues we face today: climate change.


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Jun 06, 2019
Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Audience is Listening | 3
00:40:45

By 1975, George Lucas knew exactly what he wanted Star Wars to look like, but what it would sound like was another story altogether. Lucas was tired of Sci-Fi’s typical synthetic and electronic cliches; he wanted a sonic world that felt organic and personal. So he hired a young sound designer named Ben Burtt, and sent him out into the world with a recorder and microphone.

Burtt would need to blend and manipulate his recordings in order to achieve original sound designs, customized in every way to help bring the Skywalker saga to life. Like a detective, Burtt would have to hunt for the perfect buzz, bark, or hum to make Star Wars come alive. And in the process, he and Lucas would help to change the way audiences experience sound in films.


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May 30, 2019
Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Saga Continues | 2
00:43:15

With the success of STAR WARS, George Lucas finally had the independence and power to make movies exactly the way he wanted to make them—which was critical, because the sequels he planned were going to be even bigger and more challenging than the original. The artists of Industrial Light and Magic had barely finished the first film, but now they’d have to top themselves--designing a snow planet, imperial walkers, tauntauns, asteroid fields, a Cloud City, and a 12-mile long Star Destroyer.

From 1978 to 1983, ILM surged forward with the mandate to not only complete the original STAR WARS trilogy, but also expand the company itself. The ultimate mission: to push the edge of what visual effects could be, and ultimately lead cinema from its analogue origins, to its digital present.


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May 23, 2019
Star Wars' Cinema Technology | 6842 Valjean Ave | 1
00:43:15

When STAR WARS debuted in May 1977, it gave rise to a pop-cultural phenomenon unlike any the world had ever seen. The movie was so singular and iconic, and so technically ambitious -- that it almost never came to be.

To bring Star Wars to the screen, new technology had to be invented and existing technology had to be utilized in ways never before imagined. None of the special effects companies in Hollywood could handle the blend of creativity and innovation necessary to bring director George Lucas’s vision to life. So Lucas built his own studio, and forever changed the way movies are made.


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May 16, 2019
Airplane | Rewriting Aviation History | 3
00:40:55

In 1913, the young aviation industry was in trouble. The Wright brothers’ broad proprietary claim on airplane technology—and their willingness to sue competitors—created a legal bottleneck that was stifling the airplane’s development.

Their legal power over aviation stemmed from the idea that they were the first to build a plane capable of flying. But what if they weren’t the first? In early 1914, Glenn Curtiss was presented with the opportunity to test that idea. Ironically, the experiment would end up costing him his place in history.


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May 02, 2019
Airplane | Wrights and Wrongs | 2
00:41:17

Glenn Curtiss may have mastered the technical aspects of the airplane, but in September of 1909, Curtiss found himself painfully ill-equipped to handle the latest challenge before him: the Wright brothers were suing him for patent infringement., demanding he stop building, selling, and even flying his planes. 

While Curtiss was the main target of the lawsuit, the outcome of the case would affect the industry as a whole. That’s because the question at hand focused on the interpretation and application of patent law. Specifically, could any one man--or in this case, two brothers--legally own the air.


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Apr 25, 2019
Airplane | The Flight of the June Bug | 1
00:44:15

Think for a moment about some of the pioneering developments from the earliest days of American aviation: The first pilot’s licence; the first flight from one city to another; the first airplane sold commercially. More than a century later, most people attribute these milestones to the Wright brothers. But the Wright brothers were responsible for none of these firsts. In fact, all of these achievements belong to just one man: Glenn Hammond Curtiss, the father of modern aviation. So why is it that most Americans have never heard his name?


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Apr 18, 2019
Jaron Lanier Wants You to Delete Social Media | 5
00:43:15

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. The past year has brought a backlash against these companies and others over data privacy and their treatment of speech. Tech visionary and critic Jaron Lanier discusses his take on social media and why he thinks you should delete yours.

Read Jaron’s latest book: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Right Now.

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Apr 11, 2019
XX Factor | Hedy Lamarr | 4
00:46:51

Glamour. Hollywood. Drama. Although she was known as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Actress Hedy Lamarr’s greatest life work was far from the silver screen. At the height of her film career, and in the midst of a world war, Hedy invented the basis for all modern wireless communications: signal hopping.

Part of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Apr 04, 2019
XX Factor | Margaret Knight | 3
00:46:26

A machine to mass produce paper bags. Seems unremarkable today, but in the 1800s, it was cutting edge. The technology would change everyday life, and maybe, the life of one inventor: Margaret Knight. That is if she could get people to believe she invented it.

Part of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Mar 28, 2019
XX Factor | Madam C.J. Walker | 2
00:39:59

The first self-made female African American millionaire is how she’s known. But Madam C.J. Walker’s story is much more than a rags to riches tale of a cosmetics industry mogul. She was an inventor, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. Along the way, she faced challenges from inside her own community and found a way to transform them into successes.

Part of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Mar 21, 2019
XX Factor | The Woman Who Put Man on the Moon | 1
00:40:33

Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are preparing to land on the Moon. The whole world is watching live on television. But something is very wrong, their warning alarms are flashing and they don't know what it is. There’s only one woman who can fix it: MIT software engineer Margaret Hamilton.

This is the first episode of a special series with Smithsonian Magazine highlighting the lives of women inventors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Head over to Smithsonian.com/Wondery to go deeper, or find us on Twitter @InnovationsPod.

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Mar 14, 2019
Coca-Cola | The Perfect Package | 2
00:42:10

Things are really picking up for Coca-Cola, thanks to its industrious new—and most importantly, sober—owner, Asa Candler. Over the past year, Candler’s sold enough syrup to make half a million glasses of soda. The drink is loved by everyone who tries it, but on the business side, Candler is still just scraping by. To turn Coca-Cola into the sensation he knows it can be, he will have to battle a slew of imposters, take a massive marketing risk, and deal with one very problematic ingredient: cocaine.


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Feb 28, 2019
Coca-Cola | The Cocaine Clinician | 1
00:43:00

In the wake of the Civil War, Atlanta emerged as both the cultural capital of the New South, and the epicenter of its snake oil trade. A shell-shocked populace, haunted by poverty, hunger and disease sought salvation in the dubious cure-all tonics of the pharmacy trade. What they got instead would go on to become the most famous beverage in the world: Coca-Cola.


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Feb 21, 2019
Thinking Machines | Garry Kasparov | 6
00:48:32

An interview with the Grandmaster himself: Garry Kasparov. In 1985, he earned international fame when he became the youngest world chess champion at just 22-years-old. He went on to defend his title for more than a decade. But it’s his 6-game match against IBM’s supercomputer “Deep Blue” in 1997 that will be remembered as a defining moment in the history of chess -- and artificial intelligence.

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Oct 04, 2018
Thinking Machines | Passing For Human | 5
00:45:33

Can a computer pass for human? And more importantly, can a computer beat a human at Jeopardy? It’s all fun and games until we start putting life-changing decisions in the hands of machines.

Written by Steven Johnson

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Sep 27, 2018
Thinking Machines | I Learn Therefore I Am | 4
00:40:56

A leap in the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence causes concern about the dangers ahead.  

Written by Tom Simonite

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Sep 20, 2018
Thinking Machines | Siri-ous Business | 3
00:39:20

The development of smartphone Artificial Intelligence from early government research funding and the first experimental robot in Silicon Valley to the rise of the personal assistant known as Siri.


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Sep 13, 2018
Thinking Machines| How Do You Make a Computer Blink | 2
00:40:15

With six different kinds of pieces, 64 squares to move in, and billions of possible combinations of moves, chess is a good test for a computer. The number of distinct 40-move games is far greater than the number of electrons in the visible universe. For all intents and purposes: almost infinite.

Gary Kasparov is the world’s best chess player. Deep Blue is a computer. It’s humanity v machine. There’s a lot at stake and things turn controversial fast with accusations of cheating, a very human meltdown and a computer that hallucinates.

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Sep 06, 2018
Thinking Machines| Artificial Intelligence | 1
00:41:39

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. And it’s about to get much more powerful: machines that can reason, create, predict the future, even dream. AI is likely to be one of the most transformative technologies of the 21st-century.

This is the first in our four-episode series about the rise of artificial intelligence and humanity's quest to breathe intellectual life into computers. In this episode, we're going to meet the mavericks who first dreamed of a world where machines capable of being smarter than the people who created them.

And what better way for smart machines and their creators to face off in a battle of wits -- than by playing chess?

Pre-order Steven Johnson’s new book Farsighted now before it is released on September 4th.

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Aug 30, 2018
Where Are Past Seasons? | 1
00:00:28

Hey American Innovations listeners! You might be wondering what happened to some of our older seasons. We’ve moved them to our new premium service, Wondery+, where you can listen ad-free and get access to more Wondery shows. For a limited time, we’re offering listeners of American Innovations a free week of Wondery+. Just go to wonderyplus.com/AI.

May 10, 2018
Introducing American Innovations | 1
00:02:08

The leaps of mankind, as they happened.

Premieres May 10.

Apr 26, 2018