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American Innovations


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, an...Show More

40:27 | Aug 29th

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 t...Show More

40:36 | Aug 22nd

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 Gr...Show More

43:45 | Aug 15th

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 ...Show More

33:30 | Aug 8th

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 ...Show More

08:56 | Aug 5th

How big is our galaxy? Why do certain movies make us cry? And what exactly is string theory? Join Sean Carroll's Mindscape to dive deep into the biggest ideas in science, philosophy, culture and much more. Start listening today at http://wondery.fm/S...Show More

42:42 | Aug 1st

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 ...Show More

40:24 | Jul 25th

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 pat...Show More

26:53 | Jul 4th

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 tim...Show More

41:13 | Jun 27th

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 con...Show More

41:29 | Jun 20th

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...Show More

11:16 | Jun 18th

1865 starts with the moment Lincoln got shot and follows the journey of the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Stanton continues to push through Lincoln’s progressive agenda while dealing with the nuances around the assassination. But the moral gravity...Show More

40:56 | Jun 13th

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 ...Show More

45:50 | Jun 6th

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 ...Show More

40:45 | May 30th

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 p...Show More

13:21 | May 29th

In this bonus episode, Steven Johnson talks to Mark Ramsey (host of Inside Jaws, Inside Psycho) about his latest series, Inside Star Wars. If our series shines a light on the technical pioneers who transformed an impossible vision into a reality, Ins...Show More

43:15 | May 23rd

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 ori...Show More

43:15 | May 16th

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...Show More

40:55 | May 2nd

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 po...Show More

41:17 | Apr 25th

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., dema...Show More

44:15 | Apr 18th

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 peop...Show More

05:55 | Apr 17th

Sports rivalries can fuel fans and athletes to fight and argue for years. But what’s the real story behind these epic rivalries? From Wondery, the company behind “Business Wars” and “American Scandal” comes Sports Wars, an electric new series that of...Show More

43:15 | Apr 11th

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 shoul...Show More

46:51 | Apr 4th

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 th...Show More

46:26 | Mar 28th

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 inv...Show More

39:59 | Mar 21st

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...Show More

40:33 | Mar 14th

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...Show More

42:10 | Feb 28th

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...Show More

43:00 | Feb 21st

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...Show More
ARCHIVED: The podcast creator has made this episode no longer available for listening.

10:49 | Feb 19th

Every great collaboration is a love story. It’s intense. Passionate. Along the way, there are flashes of love, hate, pride, ego, ambition, and brilliance. This is One Plus One, the show about the spark that drives two original thinkers to ultimate su...Show More

47:20 | Feb 14th

Malcolm Gladwell joins Steven Johnson to talk about innovation, writing, and Steven’s latest book “Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most.” The conversation was put on by the Next Big Idea Club. It’s a book club hand-curated by f...Show More

36:43 | Feb 7th

Horace Day made a fortune off of the vulcanizing process Goodyear repeatedly went broke trying to develop. Now, with the help of the most famous attorney in the country, Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, Goodyear plans to make Day pay.

37:24 | Jan 31st

In 1839, Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered the key to rubber. Sulfur alone had proved too fragile, but when he combined it with heat? Durable, stable rubber. Finally Goodyear’s dreams were within his grasp. But that’s when he caught the eye of...Show More

36:55 | Jan 24th

In a world where materials were limited to wood, leather, metal, and cloth, rubber was something new: a substance that was strong, soft, flexible, and waterproof—but completely undependable. Then along came a 33 year-old hardware merchant named Charl...Show More

47:14 | Jan 17th

Bill Nye tell us how he became “The Science Guy,” why climate change is solvable, and what he thinks is the most important innovation of all time. He’ll talk his new Netflix show, “Bill Nye Saves the World” — which pretty much sums up what he’s tryin...Show More

50:39 | Dec 27th, 2018

Crypto woes, Facebook scandals, a Mars lander, and foldable phones. 2018 was a mixed bag for innovation. Journalists Devindra Hardawar, Engadget, and Clive Thompson, Wired & The New York Times Magazine, join Steven to talk about the year in science a...Show More

36:05 | Dec 20th, 2018

VR is dead. Then along comes a teenager with a vision and a headset and changes everything. Support us by supporting our sponsors! The Great Courses - Go to TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/AI for a special FREE MONTH TRIAL to The Great Courses Plus. Wi...Show More

48:33 | Dec 13th, 2018

Atari has assembled the best of the best. They look ready to get VR off the ground but then the company they make a colossal mistake. The mistake’s name is E.T. Support this show by supporting our sponsors! Wix - Create your very own professional w...Show More

42:23 | Dec 6th, 2018

In the 1960s a group of scientists and engineers had a vision: that one day people could put on a pair of goggles and enter a whole new world. Support this show by supporting our sponsors! Wix - Create your very own professional website today at w...Show More

50:14 | Nov 29th, 2018

An interview with Josh Clark, co-host of the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast. Josh has a new show called “The End of the World with Josh Clark” that looks at those big existential questions we humans can’t seem to settle: Are we alone in the universe...Show More
ARCHIVED: The podcast creator has made this episode no longer available for listening.

08:07 | Nov 28th, 2018

As editor in chief at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, Tina Brown has had opportunity to sit down with the world’s most important people to hear their thoughts on the zeitgeist and on her new Podcast, “TBD with Tina Brown,” she invites you to hear her...Show More

42:54 | Nov 22nd, 2018

As Horace Wells’ life went from bad to worse, William Morton was handed a golden opportunity. At stake was scientific pride and a lot of money. But who will triumph? Support this show by supporting our sponsors! Wix - Create your very own professi...Show More

39:58 | Nov 15th, 2018

After experimenting on himself, Horace Wells realized that laughing gas might help make surgeries less painful. But his search for a business partner would lead him to a fateful encounter with a petty crook named William Morton. Support us by suppor...Show More

33:57 | Nov 8th, 2018

For decades, Americans resigned themselves to gritting their teeth through the agony of surgery. And then along came an eminent surgeon, a charming swindler and his hapless mark and changed everything. Support this show by supporting our sponsors! ...Show More
ARCHIVED: The podcast creator has made this episode no longer available for listening.

04:16 | Nov 5th, 2018

What is it like to be famous before you’re famous? What is it like to walk in the shoes of another person? Each episode of IMAGINED LIFE takes you on an immersive journey into the life of a world-famous person. It’ll be someone you may think you know...Show More

46:18 | Nov 1st, 2018

The polio vaccine may have wiped out the disease in the United States, but the struggle to eradicate it continues around the world. Dr. Rosamund Lewis is an expert in immunization and helps lead the World Health Organization’s initiative for polio er...Show More

40:16 | Oct 25th, 2018

In 1955, the world received its first viable polio vaccine, courtesy of Jonas Salk. He was hailed as a hero until kids started to fall sick with polio. A bad batch of vaccines was thought to be to blame. But the panic But it was also an opening for a...Show More

46:04 | Oct 18th, 2018

Pressure mounts and so does the realization that the fight against polio will be a risky one with enormous consequences for failure. Vaccines contain benign samples of the viruses they’re designed to protect against. If a flawed polio vaccine is test...Show More

36:29 | Oct 11th, 2018

By the middle of the last century Americans lived in fear of one disease: polio. The story of the polio vaccine is not just a scientific story- it’s a political and financial one, too. One that would pave the way for medical research fundraising camp...Show More

48:32 | Oct 4th, 2018

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 a...Show More

45:33 | Sep 27th, 2018

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 American Innovations is presente...Show More

40:56 | Sep 20th, 2018

A leap in the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence causes concern about the dangers ahead.   Written by Tom Simonite American Innovations is presented by ZipRecruiter. Try it for free at ZipRecruiter.com/AI Other sponsors include...Show More
ARCHIVED: The podcast creator has made this episode no longer available for listening.

15:50 | Sep 18th, 2018

Since the founding of the United States, in every generation, in every field of business, politics, sports and society, we’ve watched in shock as corruption, deceit and desire bring down heroes, titans and those we thought we could trust. In the aft...Show More

39:20 | Sep 13th, 2018

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. American Innovations is presented by ZipRecruiter...Show More

40:15 | Sep 6th, 2018

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. ...Show More

41:39 | Aug 30th, 2018

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-...Show More

54:31 | Aug 23rd, 2018

Today is the last episode in our interview series on the future. Next week, we’ll be back with a new narrative arc on the fascinating history of artificial intelligence. But before we get to A.I. and the future that IT holds, what is the key to loo...Show More

33:34 | Aug 16th, 2018

You’ve probably heard a lot about Bitcoin by now. Cryptocurrencies are shaking up the global finance industry. Some even say this form of commerce will be more disruptive than the creation of the internet itself. To understand this revolution, you ha...Show More

48:18 | Aug 9th, 2018

For nearly two decades, Dr. Joon Yun has been chasing the idea of curing the most pressing disease of our time: old age. In our arc on the history of DNA science, we looked at how the mapping of the human genome and new advances like CRISPR gene edit...Show More

43:11 | Aug 2nd, 2018

We’ve spent a lot of time traveling through history on this show, from Gregor Mendel and the early days of genetic research to the Manhattan Projects and the race to unlock the secrets of the atom. But what about the ideas, inventions, and advances ...Show More

40:37 | Jul 26th, 2018

Nuclear Energy is a story that’s included a cursed plutonium core, runaway reactors, a magic neutron wand and Charlie Chaplin. We've also heard about the missteps. Fake nuclear fusion plants and some overoptimistic claims about cold fusion. In this...Show More

41:48 | Jul 19th, 2018

This series has taken us from Albert Einstein in the Swiss Patent office to the bombing of Japan, from the monster movies of the 1960s to nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. Nuclear energy fell rapidly out of fashion, and to many it seemed like th...Show More

40:06 | Jul 12th, 2018

Nuclear energy was once a promising endless, clean, safe energy source. By the late 1950s, that optimism was fading. That was partially over fear of nuclear weapons, but then there was the fallout. Radioactive fallout, dust snowing from the sky after...Show More

41:21 | Jul 5th, 2018

The first serious accident from a nuclear reactor happened in the United States in 1960. It wouldn't be the last. And in the coming decades, a new word will be used to talk about accidents of these kind, a word that will strike fear into the hearts o...Show More

41:07 | Jun 28th, 2018

After the war, scientists who’d come to work at Los Alamos went their separate ways. They’d figured out how to destroy cities, but now they wanted to control atoms. The Atomic Energy Commission was created to support nuclear energy experiments, and E...Show More

37:53 | Jun 21st, 2018

The Second World War energized research on atomic science and the United States was at the forefront. For one, it had the scientists. Second, the US government was willing to back the research. Third, we wanted the bombs. However darkly depressing t...Show More

47:14 | Jun 14th, 2018

In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower went on national television introducing a new kind of power plant, one that will transform the world. Nuclear energy and the Atomic Age took America by storm, but this misunderstood technology’s potential has alwa...Show More

42:56 | Jun 7th, 2018

To wrap up The Dynamo of DNA, we're talking to Britt Wray. You can follow her on Twitter, and visit her website for more. You can also pick up her book, Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction to learn more about De-Extinction. W...Show More

46:25 | May 31st, 2018

The human genome project finally allowed us to read the “Book of Life,” the genetic code of living things. But now there’s a tool - CRISPR - that will allow us to rewrite it. With CRISPR, we can change the color of flowers, eliminate diseases, and ev...Show More

38:39 | May 24th, 2018

Over the past 50 years, our understanding of DNA has grown exponentially. It took supercomputers working overtime to produce a single genomic map… and now all it takes is a spit sample that you drop in the mail. For about a hundred bucks, you can hav...Show More

45:27 | May 17th, 2018

The path to understand genetics was rife squabbles and competition among scientists vying to discover genes, chromosomes, and the structure of DNA. The tussles had been going on for a century. But the 1980s introduced an even bigger grudge match: wh...Show More

43:22 | May 10th, 2018

From your high school science classes you may know the names Watson and Crick. If you took any more biology classes you may have heard of Wilkins, but a third name is often overlooked: Rosalind Franklin. Together, they took blurry photographs of DNA ...Show More

45:10 | May 10th, 2018

When Gregor Mendel discovered genes, he had no idea that his discoveries with pea plants would outlive him. He was just an isolated monk playing in his garden. And his ideas collected dust in university libraries for 40 years until a biologist named ...Show More

42:55 | May 10th, 2018

In 2000, President Bill Clinton held a press conference to share a milestone for humanity. He said, “we will all see the unbelievable capacity to be noble.” Science and technology embrace this idea, leading to the incredible innovations that change t...Show More

02:08 | Apr 26th, 2018

The leaps of mankind, as they happened. Premieres May 10.