PBS scores with “Breakthrough: The Ideas that Changed the World”

PBS has come a long way since its days as an outlet for local television programs, odd British TV imports, and documentaries about obscure topics from around the world. The PBS of 2019 is filled with top-notch, network-quality (or better) storytelling, both fictional and factual. And the latest PBS gem is its weekly series Breakthrough: The Ideas that Changed the World.

If you missed last week’s fourth episode, The Car, don’t despair. You can watch it right here. And you should. But hurry—according to the PBS website, it expires June 5. We’re pretty sure that means the link will no longer work.


Breakthrough: The Ideas that Changed the World takes a fascinating, 55-minute look at the history of the automobile. We’ll let the unmistakable voice of narrator Patrick Stewart sum it up for you:

“From the earliest of times, we humans have been driven to explore. This innate instinct mobilized humanity—and it changed the world. And it’s about to transform us again. The story of how we got here is full of astonishing twists and unlikely turns. It would take an alliance with a dangerous predator, devastating floods, a 19th-century publicity stunt, an avalanche of horse manure, exploding cannons, and a trip to the slaughter house to get the ultimate freedom machine: the car.

“These are the inventions that have defined our age and changed our world forever… allowed us to move both on the ground and in the air, to connect and to explore the furthest regions of the universe—each a story of ingenuity… of wonder… of Breakthrough.

If you aren’t intrigued enough already, here are a few snippets to get your motor running.


PBS Breakthrough

Go for a ride through the 9000-year history of the car, from its roots in dogsleds to Henry Ford’s affordable and assembly-line-built Model T, and meet the scientists working on the next generation of self-driving automobiles.


The First Long Distance Test Drive

PBS Breakthrough Benz Wagon

In 1886, German inventor and engineer, Karl Benz, has his patent accepted for what is regarded as the world’s first automobile, but it’s a failure. Benz doesn’t sell a single one for two years. Facing financial ruin, he plunges into depression. Thankfully for humanity, one person sees great potential in his “motor wagon”—someone who also knows how to create a bit of publicity, Benz’s wife, Bertha.


A Chicago Slaughterhouse

Henry Ford with a Model T in 1921
Henry Ford with a Model T in 1921 Ford

In 1909, the Model T’s first year of production, Henry Ford sells over 10,000 cars at $825 each. It’s a promising start, but it’s still only affordable for the well off. Ford has set his sights on creating a car for “everyman.” He needs to speed up the Model T’s construction and slash its price in half. Therein lays the challenge. The solution comes from a visit to a Chicago slaughterhouse. (A disassembly line, if you will.)


Want more? Catch up online and then watch new episodes of Breakthrough: The Ideas that Changed the World Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern time. You won’t be bored—or sorry.

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