In "Taking Root 1820-1880," the second installment of They Came for Good, a series that aired on PBS, the role of Jews in American history is examined in an informative and entertaining manner. In the early days of the new nation, 15,000 Jewish peddlers traveled the roads and were a main method of distribution for goods manufactured in the industrial northeast. As many of the peddlers settled down, small towns across the country often had one Jewish-owned store on the main street.
Stories tell of some of the notable Jewish merchants and businessmen, including a peddler named Levi Strauss who arrived in California during the Gold Rush and made his fortune by inventing pants made of heavy canvas that were soon the preferred work clothes among miners. Actors in period garb appear to enact the roles of prominent Jews, speaking passages discovered in diaries and letters written by Jewish religious, civic, and business leaders. The development of reform and conservative Judaism in America is also discussed, and historians offer insights into how Jewish life developed in unique ways in America, including service on both sides in the Civil War. By 1880, more than 250,000 Jews would arrive in America as they fled persecution in eastern Europe, and a young Jewish woman in New York, Emma Lazarus, would write "The New Colossus," the poem associated with the Statue of Liberty.