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American Innovations

169 EpisodesProduced by WonderyWebsite

New episodes come out every Thursday for free, with 1-week early access for Wondery+ subscribers.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… read more

169 Episodes | 2018 - 2022

Introducing American Innovations

April 26th, 2018

2:08

The leaps of mankind, as they happened.

Premieres May 10.


Listen to new episodes 1 week early and to all episodes ad free with Wondery+. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, and ad free listening. Available …

Where Are Past Seasons?

May 10th, 2018

0:28

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, …

Thinking Machines| Artificial Intelligence | 1

August 30th, 2018

40:27

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. And it’s about to get much more powerful: machines that can reason, create, …

Thinking Machines| How Do You Make a Computer Blink | 2

September 6th, 2018

39:07

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 …

Thinking Machines | Siri-ous Business | 3

September 13th, 2018

38:09

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 …

Thinking Machines | I Learn Therefore I Am | 4

September 20th, 2018

39:44

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

Thinking Machines | Passing For Human | 5

September 27th, 2018

44:22

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

Thinking Machines | Garry Kasparov | 6

October 4th, 2018

47:19

An interview with the Grandmaster himself: Garry Kasparov. In 1985, he earned international fame when he became the youngest world chess champion at …

Coca-Cola: The Cocaine Clinician | 1

February 21st, 2019

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 …

Coca-Cola: The Perfect Package | 2

February 28th, 2019

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, …

XX Factor | The Woman Who Put Man on the Moon | 1

March 14th, 2019

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 …

XX Factor | Madam C.J. Walker | 2

March 21st, 2019

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 …

XX Factor | Margaret Knight | 3

March 28th, 2019

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 …

XX Factor | Hedy Lamarr | 4

April 4th, 2019

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 …

Jaron Lanier Wants You to Delete Social Media | 5

April 11th, 2019

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 …

Airplane | The Flight of the June Bug | 1

April 18th, 2019

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 …

Airplane | Wrights and Wrongs | 2

April 25th, 2019

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 …

Airplane | Rewriting Aviation History | 3

May 2nd, 2019

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 …

Star Wars' Cinema Technology | 6842 Valjean Ave | 1

May 16th, 2019

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 …

Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Saga Continues | 2

May 23rd, 2019

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 …

Star Wars' Cinema Technology | The Audience is Listening | 3

May 30th, 2019

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 …

Molly Wood: In A Changing Climate, How Can Tech Help Us Survive? | 4

June 6th, 2019

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 …

The Birth Control Pill | But Can It Be Done? | 1

June 13th, 2019

40:56

When Margaret Sanger opened her birth control clinic in 1916, she knew she was breaking the law. Distributing contraceptives, or even literature …

The Birth Control Pill | A Matter of Money | 2

June 20th, 2019

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 …

The Birth Control Pill | Paradise and the Pill | 3

June 27th, 2019

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 …

The Birth Control Pill | Biologist Timothy Mousseau Can't Stop Going Back To Chernobyl | 4

July 4th, 2019

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 …

Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Driven to Succeed | 1

July 25th, 2019

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 …

Innovation Fails: DeLorean | Shifting Gears | 2

August 1st, 2019

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 …

Author Jason Torchinsky Talks Our Autonomous Future | 3

August 8th, 2019

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. …

The Heimlich Maneuver | 1

August 15th, 2019

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, …

Corn Flakes | The Brothers of Battle Creek | 1

August 22nd, 2019

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 …

Corn Flakes | Crunch Time | 2

August 29th, 2019

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 …

Corn Flakes | Kellogg vs Kellogg | 3

September 5th, 2019

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 …

Sex, Cereal, and Nut Milks - The Complicated Legacy of the Kelloggs | 4

September 12th, 2019

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 …

Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret| Apollo’s Leftovers | 1

September 26th, 2019

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 …

Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret| We Fix Anything | 2

October 3rd, 2019

36:06

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 …

Skylab: NASA’s Best-Kept Secret | Falling Back to Earth | 3

October 10th, 2019

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 …

Electric Chair | War of the Currents | 1

October 17th, 2019

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 …

Electric Chair | The War Becomes Electric | 2

October 24th, 2019

40:46

After his unceremonious departure from Edison Electric, Nikola Tesla found himself broke and dejected, but more determined than ever to share his …

Electric Chair | A Matter of Light and Death | 3

October 31st, 2019

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, …

Google's Quantum Breakthrough

November 14th, 2019

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 …

The Modern Ambulance | 1

November 21st, 2019

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 …

Kodak Roll Film: As Convenient as a Pencil | 1

November 28th, 2019

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 …

Kodak Roll Film: Kodak Fiends | 2

December 5th, 2019

36:50

George Eastman had made technological breakthroughs and forays into the photography market, but his images still weren’t good enough for professional …

Kodak Roll Film: Brownie Boom | 3

December 12th, 2019

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 …

The Year in Innovation | 6

January 9th, 2020

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 …

Electronic Television: The Picture Radio | 1

January 16th, 2020

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 …

Electronic Television: A Great Depression And The World's Fair | 2

January 23rd, 2020

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 …

Electronic Television: The TVs of The Future | 3

January 30th, 2020

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 …

Valium: Miltown Magic | 1

February 6th, 2020

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 …

Valium: The House That Leo Built | 2

February 13th, 2020

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 …

Valium: Mother’s Little Helper | 3

February 20th, 2020

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 …

Organ Transplant: The Kidney Twins | 1

March 5th, 2020

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 …

Organ Transplant: A Matter of Life and Death | 2

March 12th, 2020

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 …

Organ Transplant: The Heart Race | 3

March 19th, 2020

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 …

Fighting Coronavirus: Bruce Gellin On How COVID-19 Could Change Vaccine Development | 1

March 26th, 2020

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 …

Fighting Coronavirus: How Can We Protect City Life? | 2

March 31st, 2020

26:05

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, …

Dynamite: The Controlled Explosion | 1

April 2nd, 2020

34:14

In 1846, an Italian chemist discovered the volatile compound nitroglycerine, the first major breakthrough in creating man-made explosions since the …

Fighting Coronavirus: When Will the Lockdown End? | 3

April 7th, 2020

23:45

Reading the forecast models that track and predict the spread of the coronavirus can feel like a glimpse into the future. And epidemiologists – the …

Dynamite: The Loneliest Millionaire | 2

April 9th, 2020

32:43

Alfred Nobel had solved the critical problem of detonating nitroglycerine reliably, but his efforts to turn his new "blasting oil" into a successful …

Fighting Coronavirus: How Can Data Save Lives? | 4

April 14th, 2020

28:23

Where are new cases being detected? How many beds are available in local hospitals? What’s the growth rate of ICU admissions? These are some of the most urgent questions in the world right now, and they’re being …

Dynamite: The Merchant of Death is Dead | 3

April 16th, 2020

35:46

How did Alfred Nobel, the “Merchant of Death,” go from inventing dynamite to establishing the Nobel Peace Prize? The answer lies in a personal ad, a poorly vetted obituary, and a surprising new use for nitroglycerine.



Fighting Coronavirus: Are Our Kids Alright? | 5

April 21st, 2020

30:30

Let’s face it: we’re worried about our kids. How can we protect their mental health? Should the normal rules around screen time still apply? What …

Dynamite: Audrey Kurth Cronin on New Technology and Terrorism | 4

April 23rd, 2020

31:36

Alfred Nobel worked on dynamite in distinctly unglamorous labs, but his ambitions were as grand as his labs were small. He envisioned dynamite transforming cityscapes and connecting rail lines across Europe. When Alfred …

Fighting Coronavirus: Pandemic DIY | 6

April 28th, 2020

25:27

When health care workers began running out of protective equipment, makers around the world powered up their 3D printers and got to work. This week, Steven talks to journalist Clive Thompson about the maker movement, an …

Fighting Coronavirus: Is Social Distancing Enough? | 7

May 5th, 2020

24:16

If we really want to reopen our economy, we need to do more than just flatten the curve. In the words of Dr. Jim Kim, the former president of the World Bank, we need to “start coming down the mountain.” And to do that, …

Chewing Gum: Snapping and Stretching | 1

May 7th, 2020

33:17

It’s the mid-1800s and in Maine, John Bacon Curtis is back from clearing the spruce forests with a crazy idea. He’s going to sell ready-to-chew gum.

Fighting Coronavirus | We’re More United Than You Think | 8

May 12th, 2020

22:44

Communication and cooperation across our society are as important as they’ve ever been. This week, Steven talks with Andy Slavitt, the former Medicare and Medicaid chief, who has emerged as one of the most effective …

Chewing Gum | The Champion of Chewers | 2

May 14th, 2020

41:33

It’s the early 1890s and thanks to the adoption of chicle, chewing gum is bigger than ever. But it’s still a niche American habit. Men still shun it in favor of tobacco, and women who chew it in public are frowned upon. 

Fighting Coronavirus | Will We Remember 2020 A Century From Now? | 9

May 19th, 2020

23:24

While the U.S. has countless WWI memorials, it has almost none dedicated to the 1918 flu pandemic – even though the pandemic claimed six times as many American lives.

On this episode, Steven talks to historian Nancy …

Enemy of All Mankind | A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt | 1

May 21st, 2020

36:19

On September 11th, 1695, two ships confronted each other in the middle of the Indian Ocean: one an enormous treasure ship owned by the Grand Mughal of India, and the other a much smaller British pirate ship led by Henry …

Fighting Coronavirus | Stopping the Spread of Bad Information | 10

May 26th, 2020

23:01

According to the World Health Organization, we’re not just in the midst of a pandemic. We’re living through an “infodemic,” where misinformation is more readily available than facts.

On this episode, Steven talks to Joan …

Ferris Wheel | Wheel in the Sky | 1

May 28th, 2020

41:46

The 1889 World’s Fair in Paris dazzles attendees with the Eiffel Tower. So, when plans begin for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the mandate is clear: beat the Tower. 

America’s architects and engineers compete to win …

Fighting Coronavirus | Can Your Smartwatch Detect Covid-19? | 11

June 3rd, 2020

22:52

These days, watches don’t just tell time. Smartwatches like Apple Watch and Fitbit measure your heart rate, count your steps, and track your sleep …

Ferris Wheel | Scott A. Lukas and the History of Theme Parks | 2

June 4th, 2020

29:20

George Ferris aspired to build a structure for the 1893 World's Fair that could rival Paris's Eiffel Tower. And when the Ferris wheel debuted, …

Fighting Coronavirus | Why Covid-19 Disproportionately Kills Black Americans | 12

June 9th, 2020

27:36

There’s a saying in public health circles: “When white America sneezes, black America gets pneumonia.” When the coronavirus hit, health care experts …

Encore: The Polio Vaccine | Marching Toward A Cure | 1

June 11th, 2020

34:35

The virus spread invisibly and without warning. Person to person. Through contaminated food, shared possessions, and unwashed hands.

Mid-century …

Fighting Coronavirus | Can We Ditch the Office Forever? | 13

June 16th, 2020

26:25

Most CEOs hated the idea of employees working from home. But when the coronavirus hit, they didn’t have a choice. They sent their white-collar …

Encore: The Polio Vaccine | Can You Patent The Sun? | 2

June 18th, 2020

44:33

Pressure mounts to release a vaccine for polio, but a rushed vaccine could have disastrous results. After all, vaccines contain benign samples of the …

Fighting Coronavirus | Forest Fires, Memes, & Covid-19 | 14

June 23rd, 2020

27:37

Forest fires. Ant colonies. Internet memes.

On the surface, they have nothing in common. But, according to network scientist Samuel Scarpino, they’re …

Encore: The Polio Vaccine | The Fight Goes On | 3

June 25th, 2020

39:33

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 …

Fighting Coronavirus | Inside the NBA Bubble | 15

June 30th, 2020

25:41

Back in March, the NBA pressed pause on its 2019-20 season. Now, the league wants to pick up where it left off – but with Covid-19 rates on the rise, it’s not going to be easy.

This week, Kavitha Davidson, host of The …

Radar | Welcome to Tuxedo Park | 1

July 2nd, 2020

34:05

What technology won WWII? Most people would say the atomic bomb, but the real answer is radar.

As a small island country, vulnerable to aerial …

Fighting Coronavirus | How We Can Still Win | 16

July 7th, 2020

26:03

When National Geographic science editor Nsikan Akpan began researching his latest article on the coronavirus, he asked every scientist he talked to the same question: Has the U.S. already lost? Every scientist said no – …

Radar | Mr. Bowen Goes to Washington | 2

July 9th, 2020

38:35

As World War II rages on, American and English scientists race to develop a microwave radar system. But both sets of scientists have something the …

Radar | The Rad Lab | 3

July 16th, 2020

36:27

As German bombers raze England’s cities, American scientists race to build the world’s first air-to-air radar system. But building the system is only half the challenge. If the scientists succeed, they’ll also have to …

Radar | The Superpowers of Modern Radar | 4

July 23rd, 2020

29:56

Since World War II, scientists have continued to use radar to explore what we can’t see or hear ourselves. And their uses have become increasingly …

Fighting Coronavirus | Back to School | 17

July 28th, 2020

18:47

Back-to-school season is here, but students across the country aren’t going anywhere. Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s education correspondent, returns to the …

Video Games | Electric Dreams | 1

July 30th, 2020

38:56

Call of Duty, Fortnite, Animal Crossing.... The video game industry generates billions of dollars each year. But not so long ago, video games were …

Video Games | Ping-Pong | 2

August 6th, 2020

39:43

Nolan Bushnell's Computer Space was the world's first commercial video game, but it failed to win over the masses. Now Bushnell’s plotting his …

Video Games | Home Invasion | 3

August 13th, 2020

43:12

It's 1975 and Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell is setting his sights on the next frontier in video games: the home.

But convincing people to bring …

Fighting Coronavirus | Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Vaccines (But Were Afraid to Ask) | 18

August 18th, 2020

22:10

The coronavirus has put our lives on pause, but it’s kicked the science behind vaccines into hyperdrive. Science writer Carl Zimmer walks Steven through some of the radical new approaches to making vaccines – and gives …

Video Games | Game Designer Ian Bogost on the Past and Future of Gaming | 4

August 20th, 2020

38:20

The video game industry has certainly matured over the years. But does it still have the sense of open-ended innovation that it did in the early …

Keeping Cool | A Chilly Reception | 1

August 27th, 2020

38:53

Muggy. Sticky. Miserable. 

For eons, that’s just what summer was. In fact, when air conditioning first became available, few people took advantage of it. Wasn’t summer supposed to be uncomfortable? 

This is the story of …

Keeping Cool | It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humidity | 2

September 3rd, 2020

40:36

Summer blockbusters. Phoenix, Arizona. President Ronald Reagan. What do all these things have in common? They might never have happened if not for AC.

On this episode, AC finally hits the big time – and changes America …

Fighting Coronavirus | Larry Brilliant on Why We Need a Global Covid Response | 19

September 8th, 2020

26:39

There are few people who have thought more about pandemics than epidemiologist Larry Brilliant. He worked with the World Health Organization to …

Keeping Cool | The Air Conditioning Trap | 3

September 10th, 2020

33:03

As the Earth heats up, air conditioning is quickly shifting from a luxury to a necessity. But our reliance on ACs is also speeding up the pace of global warming. It’s the “air conditioning trap.” On this episode, Steven …

Encore: Thinking Machines | Artificial Intelligence | 1

September 17th, 2020

40:53

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. And it’s about to get much more powerful: machines that can reason, create, …

Encore: Thinking Machines | How Do You Make A Computer Blink? | 2

September 24th, 2020

38:22

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 …

Encore: Thinking Machines | Siri-ous Business | 3

October 1st, 2020

37:04

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.

Note: This episode …

Encore: Thinking Machines | I Learn, Therefore I Am | 4

October 8th, 2020

38:09

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

Note: This episode originally aired in September 2018.  

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Encore: Thinking Machines | Passing For Human | 5

October 15th, 2020

41:12

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.

Note: This episode originally …

The Fight Against AIDS | The Epidemic Begins | 1

October 22nd, 2020

42:23

In the early 1980s, a mysterious new disease spread like wildfire through the gay communities of major U.S. cities. Before it even had a name, AIDS had already killed over half its victims. Public response was hampered …

The Fight Against AIDS | Placebos and Profits | 2

October 29th, 2020

36:51

Four years into the AIDS epidemic, scientists discover a drug that may treat the disease: AZT. But the new drug quickly becomes mired in controversy -- over how it's tested, its potential side effects, and its …

The Fight Against AIDS | The Lazarus Effect | 3

November 5th, 2020

46:25

As AIDS activists keep up the pressure to find new treatments and lower the price of existing ones, they win unlikely allies at the highest levels of government. Meanwhile, some doctors on the frontlines of the epidemic …

The Fight Against AIDS | The AIDS-Covid Connection | 4

November 12th, 2020

32:20

With AIDS under control here in the U.S., we find ourselves in the middle of another deadly pandemic. Now the doctors who were on the front lines of …

Auto-Tune: From Cher to Kanye | 1

November 19th, 2020

41:09

All Andy Hildebrand wanted to do was make a computer program to help singers sound better. He never expected it to kick off a battle for the soul of …

Telephone | Call Waiting | 1

November 26th, 2020

41:09

In the 19th Century, the telegraph is the cutting edge of communication. No one can imagine anything better—except Alexander Graham Bell.

Listen ad free with Wondery+. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, …

Telephone | Guided by Voices | 2

December 3rd, 2020

39:08

Alexander Graham Bell has created one of the most important inventions in history. Now all he has to do is fight a business partner who doesn't care and a corporate monster that wants to destroy him.

Listen ad free with …

Telephone | Our Distracted Minds | 3

December 10th, 2020

27:59

Alexander Graham Bell wouldn’t recognize the telephone today. Our phones allow us to keep the internet in our pockets and offer an endless stream of …

Year In Review | When Will I Get the Vaccine? | 1

December 17th, 2020

30:17

2020 has been a year of struggle, uncertainty and loss. It has also forced us to adapt and innovate in nearly every aspect of our lives. But no innovation this year has been more important and more astounding than the …

Encore: Conquering Pain | The Frolic | 1

December 24th, 2020

33:42

For decades, Americans resigned themselves to gritting their teeth through the agony of surgery. But then an eminent surgeon, a charming swindler, and his hapless mark crossed paths and changed everything.

This episode …

Encore: Conquering Pain | The Swindle | 2

December 31st, 2020

39:00

After experimenting on himself, Horace Wells realized that laughing gas might help make surgeries less painful. But his search for a business partner …

Encore: Conquering Pain | Ether Dreams | 3

January 7th, 2021

41:57

As Horace Wells’ life goes from bad to worse, William Morton becomes an unlikely hero.

This episode originally aired on November 22, 2018.

Listen to new episodes 1 week early and to all episodes ad free with Wondery+. …

Mission To Mars | Seeing Red | 1

January 14th, 2021

35:04

Even after the Apollo program put astronauts on the moon, Mars remained out of reach. Then, in 1990, an ambitious engineer hatched an ingenious plan …

Mission To Mars | Elon Musk Takes Aim | 2

January 21st, 2021

38:45

After making his fortune in the dot-com boom, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk decides to take on a new challenge: going into space, and eventually …

Mission To Mars | Curiosity and Perseverance | 3

January 28th, 2021

40:44

Led by an iconoclastic engineer who barely graduated high school, NASA jumps back into the race to send humans to Mars. But first, they need to …

Mission To Mars | Becoming Martians | 4

February 4th, 2021

32:42

A Mars colony by 2040? Children born on Mars by 2050? It still sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but more than ever, it’s within reach. On …

Mission To Mars | Encore: The Woman Who Put Man on the Moon | 5

February 11th, 2021

43:35

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 …

Mission To Mars | How to Land on the Red Planet | 6

February 18th, 2021

41:27

On February 18th, 2021, Perseverance will become the latest NASA rover to land on Mars. To mark the occasion, Steven talks to two of the engineers behind the Mars rover program: Dr. Anita Sengupta, who designed the …

Lie Detector | The Heart of a Liar | 1

February 25th, 2021

40:16

Humans are shockingly bad at telling whether or not someone is lying. That’s why, a century ago, psychologists and criminologists developed machines …

Sponsored: The Way Things Should Be | Carmax | 6

February 26th, 2021

27:19

The weed whacker. The microwave. Instant noodles. Three simple yet ingenious inventions that challenged the status quo and made our lives easier. On this special episode, we tell the stories of three inventors who, …

Lie Detector | Larson's Monster | 2

March 4th, 2021

37:51

In 1922, a murder case in Washington, DC presents the first opportunity for lie detector results to be used in a criminal trial. But even as lie …

Lie Detector | The Future of Lying | 3

March 11th, 2021

32:52

What new technologies might eventually replace the still-popular but widely debunked polygraph? On this episode, Steven talks with Ken Alder, author …

Encore: Electric Chair | Power to the People | 1

March 18th, 2021

46:19

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 …

Encore: Electric Chair | The War Becomes Electric | 2

March 25th, 2021

40:01

After his unceremonious departure from Edison Electric, Nikola Tesla found himself broke and dejected, but more determined than ever to share his …

Encore: Electric Chair | A Matter of Light and Death | 3

April 1st, 2021

38:18

In the summer of 1888, just as the electric chair controversy was unfolding, Nikola Tesla moved to Pittsburgh to work for George Westinghouse, …

Breaking The Sound Barrier | A Bullet With Wings | 1

April 8th, 2021

42:38

In the 1940s, as planes got faster, it seemed like they were hitting a wall -- literally. Many pilots tried to travel faster than the speed of sound, …

Breaking The Sound Barrier | Sonic Boom or Bust | 2

April 15th, 2021

40:07

With each test run, pilot Chuck Yeager is getting closer to taking the top secret Bell X-1 plane past the speed of sound. But just before a critical flight, an accident on the ground jeopardizes his chances of success.

Breaking The Sound Barrier | Who Got to Mach 1 First? | 3

April 22nd, 2021

32:15

In 1947, Chuck Yeager made history when he flew faster than the speed of sound. But was he really the first to do it? On this episode, Steven talks to aviation historian and retired fighter pilot Dan Hampton, whose book …

Hacking | What’s in the Blue Box? | 1

April 29th, 2021

40:38

Hackers: the criminals who prey on our digital lives. Today they steal credit cards and personal information, or even commit acts of cyber-terrorism. But in the early days, hackers were largely seen as harmless …

Hacking | The John Dillinger of Cyberspace | 2

May 6th, 2021

40:39

In the 1980s, computers, now more powerful and more affordable, become a bigger part of people’s work and life. And that makes hackers a greater …

Hacking | White Hat vs. Black Hat | 3

May 13th, 2021

33:45

For two years, super-hacker Kevin Mitnick eludes the FBI by living under a series of false identities. But in a fit of hubris, he hacks Tsutomu Shimomura, one of the country’s leading computer security experts. It’s …

Hacking | Heroes and Villains of the Digital Age | 4

May 20th, 2021

42:32

Hackers helped shape the digital world we live in today. But more than ever, that world is under attack by a new generation of cyber-criminals. On this episode, Steven talks to Wired editor-at-large Steven Levy, author …

Storm Chasers | Tornado Alley | 1

May 27th, 2021

39:36

No extreme weather phenomenon fascinates us more than tornadoes. For most of human history, very little was known about how these graceful yet …

Storm Chasers | Blown Away | 2

June 3rd, 2021

39:38

Thanks to the movie “Twister” and the popularity of David Hoadley’s “Storm Track” newsletter, by the late 1990s, storm chasing has gone mainstream. …

Storm Chasers | Reaping the Whirlwind | 3

June 10th, 2021

43:49

Storm chasing is part scientific inquiry, part amateur thrill seeking — and sometimes, a bit of both. On this episode, Steven talks to journalist Brantley Hargrove, author of The Man Who Caught the Storm, about …

Cryonics | Immortality On Ice | 1

June 17th, 2021

38:42

Not everyone chooses burial or cremation after death.  Some believe in cryonics, freezing their bodies in the hopes of being reanimated sometime in the future.  Bob Nelson, a TV repairman with no scientific background, …

Cryonics | Frozen Heroes | 2

June 24th, 2021

47:59

Bob Nelson is hoping cryonics will become the business boon he's been expecting. Operating on a shoestring budget and employing the most primitive methods of freezing and storing bodies, Nelson struggles to stay in …

Cryonics | Suspended Animation | 3

July 1st, 2021

44:20

Robert Ettinger was a science teacher and writer who launched the field of cryonics and became its most most fervent ambassador, even choosing to be cryogenically frozen himself. On this episode, Steven talks to …

Encore: Heimlich Maneuver | Heimlich’s Maneuver | 1

July 8th, 2021

43:51

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, …

Fracking | The Source Rock | 1

July 15th, 2021

46:06

In the late 1970s, oil and natural gas fields across the U.S. were drying up, making the country increasingly dependent on foreign oil. Then, a Texas energy magnate named George Mitchell decided to try extracting …

Fracking | Land Grab | 2

July 22nd, 2021

40:10

By the early 2000s, fracking was seen as the most promising new energy industry technology in decades. And when a Penn State geologist discovered …

Fracking | Something in the Water | 3

July 29th, 2021

41:17

As stories of water contamination and health issues become public, one of the largest grassroots environmental movements in decades emerges to protest fracking. The fracking industry, led by Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey …

Fracking | Interview: The Price of Gas | 4

August 5th, 2021

40:08

Families who leased their gas-rich land to fracking companies during the boom are still wrestling with the impact of that decision. On this episode, …

Social Media | Find Your Friends | 1

August 12th, 2021

44:48

Today social media is such a dominant part of our daily lives, it's hard to believe that only 20 years ago, it didn’t exist. Then a newly single tech …

Social Media | It's Complicated | 2

August 19th, 2021

40:17

It’s the mid 2000s, and social media is mainstream. MySpace has eclipsed Friendster and been acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Meanwhile, another company is quietly reinventing social media yet again, …

Social Media | Move Fast and Break Things | 3

August 26th, 2021

42:12

By 2007, Facebook finds itself at a crossroads. Its sole focus has been growing its users and traffic. Now, it needs to turn a profit. Luckily for …

Social Media | Interview: #DearInternet | 4

September 2nd, 2021

42:55

Facebook, Friendster and MySpace weren’t the only companies that pioneered social media. In 2006, a new company turned the act of “tweeting” into an opportunity for wide-ranging commentary, and made your number of …

Encore: Organ Transplant | The Kidney Twins | 1

September 9th, 2021

44:18

A century ago, organ transplants were the stuff of science fiction. But a handful of experimental surgeons believed that transplants were not just …

Encore: Organ Transplant | A Matter of Life and Death | 2

September 16th, 2021

39:26

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 …

Encore: Organ Transplant | The Heart Race | 3

September 23rd, 2021

44:21

In 1967, an unlikely surgeon performs the first human heart transplant – and shocks the world. As others race to replicate his achievement, one …

Encore: Organ Transplant | A Short History of Living Longer | 4

September 30th, 2021

1:01:38

In the past 100 years, we’ve doubled life expectancy. It might be the single greatest achievement of the modern era. So why haven’t we done more to celebrate it?

On this episode, Rufus Griscom, host of Wondery’s “The …

Pushing Painkillers | An Untapped Market | 1

October 7th, 2021

42:33

Doctors once shied away from using opioids to treat chronic pain, citing the risk of addiction. But in the 1970s, a new generation of doctors started …

Predator Drone | From Albatross to Amber | 1

October 14th, 2021

46:34

What if you could design a spy plane that could be flown remotely and hover in the sky for hours, providing reconnaissance for troops on the ground? …

Predator Drone | Hellfire | 2

October 21st, 2021

42:09

The Predator proves its value as a “spy in the sky” for the U.S. military in Bosnia in the mid-90s. But it's not until the Predator is handed over to …

Predator Drone | Lethal Weapon | 3

October 28th, 2021

44:21

In post 9/11 Afghanistan, the Predator drone proves wildly successful for the military, helping kill a key Al Qaeda leader, and aiding in the rescue …

Predator Drone | In The Pilot’s Seat | 4

November 4th, 2021

37:07

The Predator drone made a dramatic transformation from unarmed reconnaissance vehicle to lethal weapon in 2001, just after 9/11. On this episode, Steven talks to retired Air Force officer and pilot Scott Swanson, who …

Man with No Memory | The Accident | 1

November 11th, 2021

41:28

Even as recently as the early 1950s, we didn’t understand that there were different types of memory, or how the brain processed and stored memories. Then, in 1953, a radical surgery by a reckless doctor gave us …

Man with No Memory | The Permanent Now | 2

November 18th, 2021

39:29

Without a functioning memory, Henry Molaison struggles to cope with everyday life. He loses his job, and becomes totally dependent on his overwhelmed …

Man with No Memory | Henry's Final Flight | 3

November 25th, 2021

41:21

Henry Molaison has now lived over half his life unable to form new memories. And with the passing of his parents -- the one constant in his life -- …

Man with No Memory | The Observer | 4

December 2nd, 2021

39:13

In losing his ability to form memories, Henry Molaison also lost the ability to learn new skills, retain information and form relationships. He …

Encore: The Modern Ambulance | 1

December 9th, 2021

43:58

Today when you dial 9-1-1, a squad of trained medical professionals arrives, often within minutes. But just 55 years ago, emergency calls were generally dispatched to funeral homes, simply because their vehicles were …

The Mystery of Stuxnet | Cracking the Code | 1

December 16th, 2021

41:01

In the summer of 2010, a mysterious computer virus called Stuxnet lands on the desk of Symantec cybersecurity analyst Liam O’Murchu. Stuxnet is unlike anything O’Murchu has ever seen: a highly sophisticated piece of …

The Mystery of Stuxnet | All The President’s Malware | 2

December 23rd, 2021

43:26

Experts at Symantec have finally discovered that the virus Stuxnet is designed to target nuclear facilities in Iran. But many questions remain. Who is responsible for the virus? How did it get out? As veteran New York …

Tech’s Next Big Waves | 3

December 30th, 2021

41:29

For our last episode before American Innovations goes on hiatus, we look to the future of new technology from artificial intelligence and virtual …

Juliet Schor wants a four-day work week | The TED Interview

August 4th, 2022

2:57

After a great run, American Innovations has come to an end. But there's another place you can follow Steven's work: he's now the host of the podcast …

Wondery Presents: Fast & Loose: F1®

August 30th, 2022

4:25

If you’re just watching the race, you’re doing it wrong! Fast & Loose: F1® is where the world of Formula 1 collides with comedian Will Arnett for …

Introducing: How I Built This with Guy Raz

September 12th, 2022

5:41

When Guy Raz interviews business leaders from the world’s biggest companies on How I Built This, he’s looking for more than anecdotes of success. 

Guy has spoken with the founders of some of the world’s best-known …

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