American History Hit

American History Hit

Join Don Wildman twice a week for your hit of American history, as he explores the past to help us understand the United States of today. We’ll hear how codebreakers uncovered secret Japanese plans for the Battle of Midway, visit Chief Powhatan as he prepares for war with the British, see Walt Disney accuse his former colleagues of being communists, and uncover the dark history that lies beneath Central Park. From pre-colonial America to independence, slavery to civil rights, the gold rush to the space race, join Don as he speaks to leading experts to delve into America’s past. New episodes every Monday and Thursday. Brought to you by History Hit, the award-winning podcast network and world’s best history channel on demand, featuring shows like Dan Snow’s History Hit, Not Just The Tudors and Betwixt the Sheets. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


December 1, 2022 25 min

On shooting President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth fled Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC on horseback, eventually heading south. But Lincoln’s was not the only assassination planned that night. Michael Kauffman tells Don about the others - attempted and abandoned - on the evening of April 14th, 1865, and the ill-fated run from the law of Booth and his co-conspirators.

Produced by Benjie Guy. Mixed by Thomas Ntinas. Senior Prod...

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On the evening of 14th April, 1865, the Union was celebrating victory in the civil war, won 5 days earlier with General Lee's surrender at Appomattox. President Abraham Lincoln was watching a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC. But some Southern sympathisers still thought the Confederacy could be restored. Among them was the actor John Wilkes Booth. He entered the theatre, made his way to Lincoln's box and carried ...

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November 24, 2022 45 min

In the fall of 1621, a year after the pilgrim ship the Mayflower landed on the coast of New England, the settlers of the Plymouth Colony celebrated their first successful harvest. Joining them at the three day feast were the Wampanoag people, Native Americans who had to taught the settlers how to grow corn, ensuring the community would survive the coming winter. Richard Pickering tells Don about the difficulties faced by the pilgri...

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November 21, 2022 46 min

When Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, he was initially written off by many as a reckless B movie cowboy who would lead the US to nuclear war.

However, as William Inboden tells Don, Reagan would go on to defy the odds on the international stage. Navigating complex foreign policy challenges, from Grenada to Lebanon and of course the Cold War. Taking the Soviets and the World to the brink of the unthinkable, while charting an un...

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November 17, 2022 31 min

While Thomas Edison is widely credited as the inventor of the electric lightbulb in 1879, it had existed in one form or another since the the beginning of the 19th century. But as Hugh Price tells Don, another American - Lewis Latimer - had his own light bulb moment: tweaking Edison’s invention a year later to create a longer-lasting and more affordable light bulb, able to light the buildings and streets of America, and the world. 


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November 14, 2022 47 min

The Whiskey Tax, imposed in 1791, was the first federal tax on a domestic product by a United States government. It was introduced by Alexander Hamilton to pay the interest on war bonds that had been issued to wealthy backers of the the American Revolution. But many Whiskey distillers in Western Pennsylvania refused to pay a tax that would only benefit a few rich bond holders. Over the course of three years, there were attacks on f...

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November 10, 2022 37 min

The experience of African Americans in World War 2 was, to say the least, a gross double standard. While fascism was confronted in the name of liberty and justice, those same ideals were denied to African Americans, who suffered racism and segregation, at home and on the front line. As Matthew Delmont tells Don, to African Americans, what was happening in Europe and elsewhere was an ugly reminder of the prejudice and bigotry they f...

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November 7, 2022 54 min

On April 6th 1909, deep inside the Artic Circle after months on the ice, Robert Peary, Matthew Henson and their four Inuit guides reached what they thought was the North Pole. But, as Edward J. Larson tells Don, Peary’s measurements and the speed of their journey were immediately called into question. Nonetheless, Congress voted to recognise Peary’s expedition as the first to reach the North Pole, dismissing a rival's claim to ...

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November 3, 2022 35 min

In August 1921, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was 39 years old, he contracted Polio, paralysing him from the waist down. Jonathan Darman tells Don how, despite some telling FDR that any political aspirations he might have were over, he went on to become the 32nd President of the United States.

Produced and mixed by Benjie Guy. Senior Producer: Charlotte Long.

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October 31, 2022 32 min

On Halloween, Elizabeth Bradley tells Don about Washington Irving's famous story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, its headless horseman and the influence of European folklore on this famous American gothic tale. 

Produced by Benjie Guy. Mixed by Thomas Ntinas. Senior Producer: Charlotte Long. 

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If you'd like to learn even more, we have hundreds of history documentari...

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In 1963, a Gilded Age estate in Millbrook, New York, became a venue for academic research into therapeutic uses for LSD, led by psychologist Timothy Leary. Over the next few years evolved into the home of the psychedelic movement of 1960s America. 

Guests were invited to turn on, tune in, drop out. Bemused locals first saw their new neighbours as harmless. But, as Devin Lander tells Don, as their number and notoriety grew, so did a ...

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October 24, 2022 40 min

From the 1830s until the arrival of the transcontinental railroad, hundreds of thousands of people packed their possessions into wagons and headed west, seeking land and opportunity. Following in the footsteps of Native Americans and fur trading ‘mountain men’, many travelled for several months along what became known as the Oregon Trail. But as Don hears from YouTube history teacher Mr Beat (, not all would...

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October 20, 2022 43 min

When the Central Intelligence Agency was created by President Truman in 1947, it was the latest incarnation of an American intelligence-gathering service. Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones tells Don about the evolution that led to the creation of the CIA and the often controversial covert operations it has undertaken in the name of US national security.

Produced by Benjie Guy. Mixed by Aidan Lonergan. Senior Producer: Charlotte Long.

For more Hi...

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October 17, 2022 34 min

When US Marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific, in August 1942, they were taking part in the first US ground offensive of World War 2.

As Saul David tells Don, in taking on the Japanese in the Pacific, they would go on to engage in some of the bloodiest fighting of the whole war.

Produced and mixed by Benjie Guy. Senior Producer: Charlotte Long. 

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Edward Rulloff was described as “a monster imbued by the spirit of the devil”. In 1844, he murdered his wife, likely killing his daughter at the same time, though he never admitted it. He spent the next three decades either incarcerated or on the run, becoming a career criminal. After killing a man during a robbery in 1870, he was sentenced to death.

But Rulloff was thought of at the time as no ‘ordinary killer’. A trained doctor, a...

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October 10, 2022 49 min

In October 1962, the United States confirmed that Soviet missiles were being deployed in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy had to contemplate the consequences of any US response, knowing an escalation of hostilities could end in all-out nuclear war.

What followed was the period of greatest tension during the Cold War. When journalist and historian Sir Max Hastings started writing Abyss, his new book on the confrontation, he thought h...

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October 6, 2022 42 min

Central Park is an oasis of nature in New York City, amidst the countless skyscrapers and gridded streets of Manhattan. Over 800 acres of sweeping fields, shaded pathways and picturesque vistas attract more than 42 million visitors a year. It was created to give free and equal access to recreational space for all. But, as Don hears from Leslie Alexander, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History at Rutgers University, undern...

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October 3, 2022 33 min

In 1763, Native American tribes in the Great Lakes region began fighting British expansion and rule in their territory, attacking forts and settlements. They were led by the Odawa war chief, Pontiac. The conflicts, which continued over the course of 3 years, forced the British to re-examine their policies towards Native Americans, banning settlements west of the Appalachians. Ned Blackhawk, professor of History and American Studies...

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September 29, 2022 43 min

The Battle of Midway took place between the US and Japan in June 1942. The US victory, after 4 days of fighting in the air and sea around the Pacific island of Midway, is widely seen as a turning point in the Pacific War in World War 2. Craig L. Symonds tells Don about the key decisions made by both sides and the important role played by American code breakers in discovering what was meant to be Japan’s surprise attack.

Produced by ...

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September 26, 2022 29 min

After World War 2 ended, the Nazis defeated, America feared communist infiltration of its institutions, among them, Hollywood.

In November 1947, a number of high profile ‘friendly witnesses’ in the film industry, including Walt Disney and Jack Warner of Warner Brothers, appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named people and organisations they believed were associated with communists.

As Don hears from Dr. K...

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