The BEST Episodes of American Experience

Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!

Last Updated: Sep 22, 2021

Network: PBS

Examine the people, events, technology, and natural resources that have shaped the country. Hosted by David McCullough until 2002 and narrated by a number of well-known personalities - The American Experience uses historians and authors, period images and film, music, dramatic re-enactments, and contemporary context to set the stage for its topics.

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God Bless America and Poland, Too

#1 - God Bless America and Poland, Too

Season 3 - Episode 5 - Aired Oct 22, 1990

Episode focusing on Polish immigration in the 1910s and the contributions of Poles to the United States.

star 10.00
1 votes
Writers: Marian Marzynski
Nixon (1): The Quest

#2 - Nixon (1): The Quest

Season 3 - Episode 2 - Aired Oct 15, 1990

Chronicle of the 37th President - from his earliest ambitions to his innovative foreign policy and paranoia of perceived rivals.

star 10.00
1 votes
Directors: David Espar
Writers: Geoffrey C. Ward
The Battle Over Citizen Kane

#3 - The Battle Over Citizen Kane

Season 8 - Episode 7 - Aired Jan 29, 1996

Orson Welles' movie stirs the ire of publisher William Randolph Hearst, the man who the film was patterned after.

star 10.00
1 votes
Directors: Michael Epstein
Writers: Richard Ben Cramer, Thomas Lennon
Secrets of a Master Builder

#4 - Secrets of a Master Builder

Season 13 - Episode 3 - Aired Oct 30, 2000

The contributions of James B. Eads in understanding and altering the great Mississippi River during the second half of the 19th century.

star 10.00
29 votes
Partners of the Heart

#5 - Partners of the Heart

Season 15 - Episode 8 - Aired Feb 10, 2003

A tale of the partnership between a white doctor and a young African-American in pioneering cardiac surgical procedures during the World War II era.

star 10.00
1 votes
Directors: Andrea Kalin
Writers: Andrea Kalin, Lou Potter
George H.W. Bush (1)

#6 - George H.W. Bush (1)

Season 20 - Episode 13 - Aired May 5, 2008

A detailed chronicle of the Bush family and the life of the 41st President of the United States - from World War II to the Gulf War and beyond.

star 10.00
1 votes
Directors: Austin Hoyt
Writers: Austin Hoyt
We Shall Remain (4): Geronimo

#7 - We Shall Remain (4): Geronimo

Season 21 - Episode 8 - Aired May 4, 2009

A portrait of the Chiracahua Apache who was one of the last Native Americans to continue armed resistance in North America.

star 10.00
1 votes
Directors: Dustinn Craig
Writers: Dustinn Craig, Sarah Colt, Sarah Colt
We Shall Remain (5): Wounded Knee

#8 - We Shall Remain (5): Wounded Knee

Season 21 - Episode 9 - Aired May 11, 2009

Rebellious Lakota and allies take up arms in 1973 and force an examination of the failures of the reservation system in the United States.

star 10.00
1 votes
Directors: Stanley Nelson
Writers: Marcia Smith
Soundtrack for a Revolution

#9 - Soundtrack for a Revolution

Season 23 - Episode 11 - Aired May 9, 2011

The story of the American civil rights movement told through the freedom songs protesters sang on picket lines, in mass meetings, in paddy wagons and in jail cells as they fought for justice and equality. The music enabled African-Americans to sing words they could not say and helped protesters face brutal aggression with dignity. With heart-wrenching interviews, dramatic images and contemporary performances by top artists, including John Legend, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean and The Roots.

star 10.00
1 votes
Writers: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman
America 1900 (2): Change Is in the Air

#10 - America 1900 (2): Change Is in the Air

Season 11 - Episode 2 - Aired Nov 18, 1998

An overview of life in the United States at the dawn of the 20th century − unforeseen opportunities and unplanned-for challenges.

star 10.00
1 votes
Directors: David Grubin
Writers: David Grubin, Judy Crichton
 The Abolitionists: 1838-1854

#11 - The Abolitionists: 1838-1854

Season 25 - Episode 2 - Aired Jan 15, 2013

See how the activities of the five principals intersect and affect the anti-slavery movement.

star 10.00
2 votes
Directors: Rob Rapley
Writers: Paul Taylor, Rob Rapley
 The Abolitionists: 1854-Emancipation and Victory

#12 - The Abolitionists: 1854-Emancipation and Victory

Season 25 - Episode 3 - Aired Jan 22, 2013

Examine the forces leading to war and to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

star 10.00
2 votes
Directors: Rob Rapley
Writers: Paul Taylor, Rob Rapley
Civilian Conservation Corps

#13 - Civilian Conservation Corps

Season 22 - Episode 1 - Aired Nov 2, 2009

FDR establishes a back-to-work program that generates employment and addresses some of the nation's environmental needs during the Great Depression.

star 9.90
30 votes
Directors: Robert Stone
Writers: Robert Stone
JFK (Part 2)

#14 - JFK (Part 2)

Season 25 - Episode 8 - Aired Nov 12, 2013

JFK presents a fresh look at an enigmatic man who remains one of the nation's most beloved and mourned leaders, John F. Kennedy. It offers a new perspective on his private life, his relationship with his wife, his close connection to his brother, Robert, and his bond with his father. JFK also reevaluates his strengths and weaknesses in the Oval Office as he navigated some of the most explosive events of the mid-twentieth century.

star 9.81
36 votes
Directors: Susan Bellows
Writers: Mark Zwonitzer
The Donner Party

#15 - The Donner Party

Season 5 - Episode 3 - Aired Oct 28, 1992

Tragic tale of families attempting a short-cut passage to California in the 1840s, with narration of their life-and-death struggle taken from their own journals.

star 9.79
33 votes
Directors: Ric Burns
Writers: Ric Burns
Freedom Summer

#16 - Freedom Summer

Season 26 - Episode 6 - Aired Jun 24, 2014

In the summer of 1964, more than 700 students join with organizers and local blacks to canvas for voter registration, create Freedom Schools and establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

star 9.78
32 votes
Directors: Stanley Nelson
Writers: Stanley Nelson
The Amish: Shunned

#17 - The Amish: Shunned

Season 26 - Episode 3 - Aired Feb 4, 2014

Filmed over the course of twelve months, The Amish: Shunned follows seven former members of the Amish community as they reflect on their decisions to leave one of the most closed and tightly-knit communities in the United States. Estranged from family, the ex-Amish find themselves struggling to understand and make their way in modern America. Interwoven through the stories are the voices of Amish men and women who remain staunchly loyal to their traditions and faith. They explain the importance of obedience, the strong ties that bind their communities together, and the pain they endure when a loved one falls away.

star 9.74
34 votes
Directors: Callie T. Wiser
Writers: Callie T. Wiser
JFK (Part 1)

#18 - JFK (Part 1)

Season 25 - Episode 7 - Aired Nov 11, 2013

JFK presents a fresh look at an enigmatic man who remains one of the nation's most beloved and mourned leaders, John F. Kennedy. It offers a new perspective on his private life, his relationship with his wife, his close connection to his brother, Robert, and his bond with his father. JFK also reevaluates his strengths and weaknesses in the Oval Office as he navigated some of the most explosive events of the mid-twentieth century.

star 9.73
37 votes
Directors: Susan Bellows
Writers: Mark Zwonitzer
The Poisoner's Handbook

#19 - The Poisoner's Handbook

Season 26 - Episode 1 - Aired Jan 7, 2014

The story of New York City's first medical examiner, Charles Norris (1867-1935), and his chief toxicologist, Alexander Gettler (1883-1968), who pioneered the use of forensic science to explain violent and suspicious deaths. Included: remarks from renowned medical examiners Marcella Fierro and Michael Baden; and author Deborah Blum ("The Poisoner's Handbook"). Oliver Platt narrates.

star 9.71
38 votes
Directors: Rob Rapley
Writers:
Silicon Valley

#20 - Silicon Valley

Season 25 - Episode 5 - Aired Feb 5, 2013

Led by physicist Robert Noyce, Fairchild Semiconductor began as a start-up company whose radical innovations would help make the United States a leader in both space exploration and the personal computer revolution, changing the way the world works, plays, and communicates. Noyce's invention of the microchip ultimately re-shaped the future, launching the world into the Information Age.

star 9.67
6 votes
Writers: Randall MacLowry
War of the Worlds

#21 - War of the Worlds

Season 25 - Episode 6 - Aired Oct 29, 2013

Shortly after 8 p.m. on October 30th, 1938, the voice of a panicked radio announcer broke in with a news bulletin reporting strange explosions taking place on the planet Mars, followed minutes later by a report that Martians had landed in the tiny town of Grovers Mill, New Jersey. It turned out to be H.G. Wells' classic 'The War of the Worlds', performed by 23-year-old Orson Welles. Although most listeners understood that the program was a radio drama, the next day's headlines reported that thousands of others plunged into panic, convinced that America was under a deadly Martian attack. 75 years after the original radio broadcast, 'American Experience' examines the elements that came together to create one of the biggest mass hysteria events in U.S. history.

star 9.59
39 votes
Writers: Michelle Ferrari
1964

#22 - 1964

Season 26 - Episode 2 - Aired Jan 14, 2014

Recalling 1964, a pivotal year in U.S. history. While the Beatles captured the imaginations of the nation's youth, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, unveiled his vision of a "Great Society" and squared off against Barry Goldwater in the presidential election. Also covered: the murders of three Freedom Summer volunteers; and the influence of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique." Based in part on Jon Margolis' "The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964."

star 9.51
35 votes
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

#23 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Season 26 - Episode 4 - Aired Feb 11, 2014

Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, better known as Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, form the Wild Bunch gang and pull off the longest string of holdups in history.

star 9.51
35 votes
Directors: John Maggio
Writers: John Maggio
The Rise and Fall of Penn Station

#24 - The Rise and Fall of Penn Station

Season 26 - Episode 5 - Aired Feb 18, 2014

In 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad successfully accomplished the enormous engineering feat of building tunnels under New York City's Hudson and East Rivers, connecting the railroad to New York and New England, knitting together the entire eastern half of the United States. The tunnels terminated in what was one of the greatest architectural achievements of its time, Pennsylvania Station. Penn Station covered nearly eight acres, extended two city blocks, and housed one of the largest public spaces in the world. But just 53 years after the station’s opening, the monumental building that was supposed to last forever, to herald and represent the American Empire, was slated to be destroyed.

star 9.50
38 votes
Writers: Randall MacLowry
Nixon (3): The Fall

#25 - Nixon (3): The Fall

Season 3 - Episode 4 - Aired Oct 15, 1990

Chronicle of the 37th President - from his earliest ambitions to his innovative foreign policy and paranoia of perceived rivals.

star 9.50
2 votes
Writers: Geoffrey C. Ward