Orson Welles and the 1938 The War of the Worlds Broadcast

A Short Course Overview of the Background, Event, Panic and Legacy
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Course Goal: By the end of this course, you should be able to intelligently provide an overview of the background and events (including the panic responses) concerning the Mercury Theater’s 1938 production of The War of the Worlds.
Objective 1. By the end of this course, you should be able to explain in broad, outline fashion, how the popular sinister views of the planet Mars, along with the absolute trust Americans possessed concerning the radio news programs, contributed together to make the 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” especially convincing.
Objective 2: By the end of this course, you should be able to explain how persons reacted who believed the radio program to be true.
Objective 3: By the end of this course, you will grow in your appreciation concerning the genius and creativity of Mr. Orson Welles of the Mercury Theater.


  • The only requirement needed for this course is a computer that can play the video lectures, with either headphones or speakers for sound.


In the 19th century, the planet Mars became the darling of astronomers, and there was a lot of speculation about life on Mars. Science fiction writers like H. G. Wells picked up on this, so that Mars became the origin of many hostile invasions in literature and the emerging electronic media in the 20th century. This media included radio, which by 1938 had become an important source of both entertainment and news. The overseas news bulletins were especially esteemed because they brought up-to-the-minute news concerning the growing threat of a major war because of militant leaders in Japan, Germany and Italy. Many were saying that America would be drawn in to such an awful conflict.

Orson Welles, always working to increase the ratings of their Mercury Theater, decided to adapt H. G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds” to their present time, using special news bulletins to draw the audience into the spreading invasion. Our society could hardly have been primed better for the effectiveness of this broadcast.

Many tuned in to the broadcast after the introduction, and became convinced through those news bulletins that America was being invaded by powerful aliens from Mars. The resultant panic choked communication lines and befuddled city and police officials. This class will provide a broad introduction to the broadcast, links to listen to or read the original broadcast, and a survey of the reactions across this nation and Canada. A final section will consider the legacy of the radio program and a conclusion.

There are supplemental documents that provide recommended resources, and a final bibliography in APA format. The course comprises 6 Sections, with approximately an hour and a half of video storytelling, and links to the listen to or read the original play (approximately 45 minutes). Students should be able to complete the course in about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Who this course is for:

  • This course is accessible to all adults, high school age and above, and my intended audience is anyone who loves a good story. This course might also be helpful to students looking for a good speech or paper topic.

Course content

4 sections9 lectures1h 19m total length
  • Course Introduction; Lecture 1: A People Ready for Invasion
  • Orson Welles and the Making of the Halloween Broadcast


Professor of history
Gerald Franz
  • 4.6 Instructor Rating
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      Dr. Franz has been teaching history for 34 years in various colleges, and sometimes to high school students.  He has written a number of historical dramas for his history students, and after one season's performance, he received a letter of commendation from former president George Bush, Sr. for making history alive to students today.  He has also taken history students on a number of field trips to various important historical locations.  He hopes to continue putting short history courses on Udemy in order to share his favorite historical events.  He currently teaches many online history courses for various universities, along with various live classes in his area. 

    He has been married since 1983 to Wendy, and they have a son and daughter, both adults.  In their spare time, they love to walk, jog, swim, and ride their bikes.