Sinclair, Upton

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Upton Sinclair


Born September 20, 1878, in Baltimore, MD; died November 25, 1968, in Bound Brook, NJ; son of Upton Beall (a traveling salesman) and Priscilla (Harden) Sinclair; married Meta H. Fuller, 1900 (divorced, 1913); married Mary Craig Kimbrough (a poet), April 21, 1913 (died April 26, 1961); married Mary Elizabeth Willis, October 14, 1961 (died December 18, 1967); children: (first marriage) David. Education: City College (now City College of the City University of New York), A.B., 1897; graduate studies at Columbia University, 1897-1901. Politics: Formerly Socialist, then left-wing Democrat.


Full-time writer, 1898-1962. Founder, Intercollegiate Socialist Society (now League for Industrial Democracy), Helicon Home Colony, Englewood, NJ, 1906, and EPIC (End Poverty in California) League, 1934; assisted U.S. Government in investigation of Chicago stock yards, 1906; established theater company for performance of socialist plays, 1908. Socialist candidate for U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey, 1906, and from California, 1920, for U.S. Senate from California, 1922, and for governor of California, 1926 and 1930; Democratic candidate for governor of California, 1934. Occasional lecturer.


Authors League of America (founder), American Institute of Arts and Letters, American Civil Liberties Union (founder of Southern California chapter).

Awards, Honors

Nobel Prize for literature nomination, 1932; Pulitzer Prize, 1943, for Dragon's Teeth; Page One Award, New York Newspaper Guild, 1962; Social Justice Award, United Auto Workers, 1962.



Springtime and Harvest: A Romance, Sinclair Press, 1901, published as King Midas, Funk (New York, NY), 1901, 2nd edition, Heinemann (London, England), 1906.

The Journal of Arthur Stirling, revised and condensed edition, Appleton (New York, NY), 1903, new edition, Heinemann (London, England), 1907.

Prince Hagen: A Phantasy, L. C. Page and Co., 1903, reprinted, Arno (New York, NY), 1978.

Manassas: A Novel of the War, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1904, revised edition published as Theirs Be the Guilt: A Novel of the War between the States, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1959, original edition, introduction by Kent Gramm, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 2000.

The Jungle, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1906, reprinted, See Sharp Press (Tucson, AZ), 2003.

A Captain of Industry, Being the Story of a Civilized Man, The Appeal to Reason, 1906, reprinted, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1924.

The Overman, Doubleday, Page and Co. (New York, NY), 1907.

The Moneychangers, B. W. Dodge and Co. (New York, NY), 1908, reprinted, Classic Books (Murrieta, CA), 2000.

The Metropolis, Moffat, Yard and Co., 1908.

Samuel the Seeker, B. W. Dodge and Co., 1910.

Love's Pilgrimage, M. Kennerley (New York, NY), 1911, reprinted, Classic Books (Murrieta, CA), 2000.

The Millennium: A Comedy of the Year 2000, Laurie (London, England), 1912, reprinted, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Damaged Goods (novelization of play "Les Avaries" by Eugene Brieux), Winston, 1913, reprinted, Laurie (London, England), 1931, published as Damaged Goods: A Novel about the Victims of Syphilis, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1948.

Sylvia, Winston, 1913, reprinted, Scholarly Press, 1970.

Sylvia's Marriage, Winston, 1914.

King Coal, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1917, reprinted, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Jimmie Higgins, Boni & Liveright (New York, NY), 1919, reprinted, University Press of Kentucky, 1970.

100 Percent: The Story of a Patriot (also see below), privately printed, 1920, published as The Spy, Laurie (London, England), 1920.

They Call Me Carpenter: A Tale of the Second Coming, Boni & Liveright (New York, NY), 1922, reprinted, Chivers, 1971.

Oil!, A. C. Boni (New York, NY), 1927, reprinted, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1997.

Boston: A Documentary Novel of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case, A. C. Boni (New York, NY), 1928, published as Boston: A Novel, Laurie (London, England), 1929, reprinted, Robert Bentley, 1978, condensed edition published as August 22, Award Books, reprinted, Classic Books (Murietta, CA), 1998.

Mountain City, A. C. Boni (New York, NY), 1930.

Peter Gudge Becomes a Secret Agent (excerpted from 100 Percent), State Publishing House, 1930.

Roman Holiday, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1931.

The Wet Parade, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1931.

Co-op: A Novel of Living Together, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1936.

The Gnomobile: A Gnice Gnew Gnarrative with Gnonsense, but Gnothing Gnaughty (juvenile), illustrated by John O'Hara Cosgrave, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1936, reprinted, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1962.

No Pasaran! (They Shall Not Pass): A Story of the Battle of Madrid, Laurie (London, England), 1937.

Little Steel, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1938, reprinted, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1976.

Our Lady, Rodale Press (Emaus, PA), 1938.

Limbo on the Loose: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1948.

Marie and Her Lover, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1948.

Another Pamela; or, Virtue Still Rewarded, Viking (New York, NY), 1950.

What Didymus Did, Wingate (London, England), 1954, published as It Happened to Didymus, Sagamore Press (New York, NY), 1958.

Cicero: A Tragedy of Ancient Rome, privately printed, 1960.

Affectionately Eve, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1961.

The Coal War: A Sequel to King Coal, edited by John Graham, Colorado Associated University Press (Boulder, CO), 1976.

political, social, and economic studies

The Industrial Republic: A Study of the America of Ten Years Hence, Doubleday, Page and Co. (New York, NY), 1907, reprinted, Hyperion Press (New York, NY), 1976.

(With Michael Williams) Good Health and How We Won It, with an Account of the New Hygiene, F. A. Stokes (New York, NY), 1909.

The Fasting Cure, M. Kennerley (New York, NY), 1911.

The Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation, privately printed, 1918, Vanguard (New York, NY), 1927, reprinted, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2000.

The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism, privately printed, 1919, 11th edition, 1936, with an introduction by Robert W. McChesney and Ben Scott, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2003.

The Book of Life, Mind and Body, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1921, 4th edition, privately printed, 1926.

The Goose-step: A Study of American Education, privately printed, 1923, revised edition, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1923, reprinted, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1970.

The Goslings: A Study of the American Schools, privately printed, 1924, reprinted, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1970.

Mammonart: An Essay in Economic Interpretation, privately printed, 1925, reprinted, Simon Publications (San Diego, CA), 2003.

Letters to Judd, An American Workingman, privately printed, 1926, revised edition published as This World of 1949 and What to Do about It: Revised Letters to a Workingman on the Economic and Political Situation, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1949.

The Spokesman's Secretary, Being the Letters of Mame to Mom, privately printed, 1926.

Money Writes!, A. C. Boni (New York, NY), 1927, reprinted, Scholarly Press, 1970.

Upton Sinclair Presents William Fox, privately printed, 1933, reprinted, Arno (New York, NY), 1970.

The Way Out: What Lies Ahead for America, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1933.

I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1933.

The Lie Factory Starts, End Poverty League, 1934.

The EPIC Plan for California, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1934.

EPIC Answers: How to End Poverty in California, End Poverty League, 1934, 2nd edition, 1935.

I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1935, introduction by James N. Gregory, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994, published as How I Got Licked and Why, Laurie (London, England), 1935.

We, People of America, and How We Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future, National EPIC League, 1935, republished, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.

The Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1937, published as The Flivver King: A Novel of Ford-America, Laurie (London, England), 1938, reprinted, Chivers, 1971.

(With Eugene Lyons) Terror in Russia?: Two Views, Richard R. Smith, 1938.

Your Million Dollars, privately printed, 1939, published as Letters to a Millionaire, Laurie (London, England), 1939.

Expect No Peace!, Haldeman-Julius (Girard, KS), 1939.

What Can Be Done about America's Economic Troubles, privately printed, 1939.

Telling the World, Laurie (London, England), 1940.

The Cup of Fury, Channel Press, 1956.


Plays of Protest (includes The Naturewoman, The Machine, The Second-story Man, and Prince Hagen), M. Kennerley (New York, NY), 1912, reprinted, Scholarly Press, 1970.

Hell: A Verse Drama and Photo-play, privately printed, 1923.

Singing Jailbirds: A Drama in Four Acts, privately printed, 1924.

Bill Porter: A Drama of O. Henry in Prison, privately printed, 1925.

Oil! (four-act play; adaptation of his novel), privately printed, 1929.

Depression Island, Laurie (London, England), 1935.

Wally for Queen!: The Private Life of Royalty, privately printed, 1936.

Marie Antoinette, Vanguard (New York, NY), 1939.

A Giant's Strength, Laurie (London, England), 1948.

The Enemy Had It Too (three-act), Viking (New York, NY), 1950.

juvenile novels; under pseudonym clarke fitch

Courtmartialed, Street Smith, 1898.

Saved by the Enemy, Street Smith, 1898.

Wolves of the Navy; or, Clif Faraday's Search for a Traitor, Street Smith, 1899.

A Soldier Monk, Street Smith, 1899.

A Soldier's Pledge, Street Smith, 1899.

Clif, the Naval Cadet; or, Exciting Days at Annapolis, Street Smith, 1903.

From Port to Port; or, Clif Faraday in Many Waters, Street Smith, 1903.

The Cruise of the Training Ship; or, Clif Faraday's Pluck, Street Smith, 1903.

A Strange Cruise; or, Clif Faraday's Yacht Chase, Street Smith, 1903.

"lanny budd" series; novels

World's End, Viking (New York, NY), 1940, reprinted, Curtis Books, 1968.

Between Two Worlds, Viking (New York, NY), 1941, reprinted, Curtis Books, 1968.

Dragon's Teeth, Viking (New York, NY), 1942, reprinted, New American Library (New York, NY), 1968.

Wide Is the Gate, Viking (New York, NY), 1943.

Presidential Agent, Viking (New York, NY), 1944.

Dragon Harvest, Viking (New York, NY), 1945.

A World to Win, 1940-1942, Viking (New York, NY), 1946.

Presidential Mission, Viking (New York, NY), 1947.

One Clear Call, Viking (New York, NY), 1948.

O Shepherd, Speak, Viking (New York, NY), 1949.

The Return of Lanny Budd, Viking (New York, NY), 1953.


(Under pseudonym Frederick Garrison) Off for West Point; or, Mark Mallory's Struggle, Street Smith, 1903.

(Under Garrison pseudonym) On Guard; or, Mark Mallory's Celebration, Street Smith, 1903.

(Editor) The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest, Winston, 1915, 2nd revised edition, Barricade Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Mental Radio, A. C. Boni (New York, NY), 1930, published as Mental Radio: Does It Work, and How?, Laurie (London, England), 1930, revised edition, C. C. Thomas, 1962, original edition reprinted, Hampton Roads (Charlottesville, VA), 2001.

American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1932, published as Candid Reminiscences: My First Thirty Years, Laurie (London, England), 1932), reprinted, Kennikat Press, 1969.

The Book of Love, Laurie (London, England), 1934.

An Upton Sinclair Anthology, compiled by I. O. Evans, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1934, revised edition, Murray Gee, 1947.

What God Means to Me: An Attempt at a Working Religion, privately printed, 1935, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1936.

A Personal Jesus: Portrait and Interpretation, Evans Publishing Co., 1952, 2nd edition published as The Secret Life of Jesus, Mercury Books, 1962.

My Lifetime in Letters, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1960.

Autobiography, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1962.

(Author of foreword) Morton T. Kelsey, Tongue Speaking, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964.

The Land of Orange Groves and Jails: Upton Sinclair's California, edited by Lauren Coodley, Heyday Books (Berkeley, CA), 2004.

Sinclair's personal papers, books, manuscripts, and other materials are housed in the Lilly Library at Indiana University.


Sinclair's works adapted for film include The Adventurer, U.S. Amusement Corp., 1917; The Money Changers, Pathé Exchange, 1920; Marriage Forbidden, Criterion, 1938; and The Gnome-Mobile, Walt Disney Productions, 1967. The Jungle was adapted as a graphic novel by Peter Kuper and Emily Russell, ComicsLit (New York, NY), 2004.


"He was a man with a cause, and his weapon was an impassioned pen." With these words, a National Observer reporter summed up the life of Upton Sinclair, one of the twentieth century's foremost novelists, journalists, and pamphleteers. A "muckraker" whose motto, like that of American reformer Wendell Phillips, was "If anything can't stand the truth, let it crack," Sinclair spent most of his ninety years engaged in what William A. Bloodworth, Jr., in the Dictionary of Literary Biography called "idealistic opposition to an unjust society." Time and time again, in books like his international best-seller The Jungle—a graphic portrayal of the wretched lives of workers in Chicago's meat-packing plants—the socialist crusader set out to reveal what he described as "the breaking of human hearts by a system which exploits the labor of men and women for profits."

A Reaction to a Morally Fragmented Age

According to Bloodworth, Sinclair pursued his theme of social justice for all with "single-minded intensity." He regarded all art as propaganda, continues the critic, using the novel not only to denounce wealth, corruption, and "loose morals"—alcohol and promiscuity were favorite targets—with puritanical fierceness, but also "to publicize and interpret contemporary events that he felt had not been adequately covered by the news media." And because Sinclair believed that the primary purpose of his books was to bring about improvement in the human condition, he placed more emphasis on content than on form, a major factor in the development of his reputation as a writer who displayed more zeal than style.

In addition to zeal, Sinclair was noted for his morally simple view of history, a view that is especially evident in his "Lanny Budd" novels. This eleven-volume series, begun in 1940 and completed in 1953, traces the political history of the Western world from 1913 to 1950. It describes historical change in terms of international conspiracy and conflict, primarily between the forces of progress—socialism and communism—and the forces of oppression—fascism. As the series moves forward in time, however, America of the 1930s and 1940s takes up the cause of progress to do battle with both fascism and Soviet-style communism. Sinclair, who took pleasure in responding to his critics, had a simple explanation for his commonplace style and tendency toward oversimplification. "Somebody has to write for the masses and not just the Harvard professors," he once remarked. "I have tried to make my meaning plain so that the humblest can understand me."

Sinclair enthusiastically supported U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and abhorred Soviet Stalinism, and his equally simple view of human nature is evident in his characterization. Virtually all of his figures are two-dimensional, more symbolic than real. His typical hero is a young and noble paragon of socialism; his typical villain is usually the personification of a specific trait such as greediness or corruption. Explained V. F. Calverton in the Nation: Sinclair's "characters are rational—or cerebral if

you will—rather than emotive creations. One can see them but not experience them. This is partly due to the fact that, in the main, they are types instead of individuals, types that you know…. Sin clair tends to portray his characters in terms of straight lines instead of in terms of all those zigzags of personality, those intricate and irrational contradictions of self, which create individuality in life as well as in fiction."

In his book Sketches in Criticism, Van Wyck Brooks presented a more pointed assessment of Sinclair's characters. It is hardly surprising, he noted, that "Sinclair should be popular with the dispossessed: they who are so seldom flattered find in his pages a land of milk and honey. Here all the workers wear haloes of pure golden sunlight and all the capitalists have horns and tails; socialists with fashionable English wives invariably turn yellow at the appropriate moment, and rich men's sons are humbled in the dust, winsome lasses are always true unless their fathers have money in the bank, and wives never understand their husbands, and all those who are good are also martyrs, and all those who are patriots are also base. Mr. Sinclair says that the incidents in his books are based on fact and that his characters are studied from life…. But Mr. Sin clair, like the rest of us, has seen what he wanted to see and studied what he wanted to study; and his special simplification of the social scene is one that almost inevitably makes glad the heart of the victim of our system."

A Childhood of Hardship

Sinclair's strong identification with "the masses" is most often attributed to the circumstances of his youth. He was born into an aristocratic but impoverished Southern family whose financial difficulties dated back to the U.S. Civil War era. His father, Upton Beall, a traveling salesman who turned to alcohol to cope with the unaccustomed pressures of having to work for a living, rarely made enough money to provide Upton and his mother with some measure of comfort. This life of genteel hardship contrasted sharply with that of Priscilla Sinclair's wealthy Baltimore relatives; it was a difference that disturbed young Sinclair, who could not understand why some people were rich and others poor. Many years later, at the age of eighty-five, he would remark at a gathering held in his honor that he still did not understand.

A sickly but precocious child, Sinclair entered New York's City College at the age of fourteen. Determined to become financially independent from his unreliable father, he immediately began submitting jokes, riddles, poems, and short stories to popular magazines; by the time he graduated, Sinclair was selling full-length adventure novels published under various pseudonyms to Street Smith, one of the day's foremost publishers of pulp fiction. During this period, the teenager learned to write quickly, prolifically, and with a minimum of effort, turning out an average of six to eight thousand words per day, seven days per week.

After receiving his degree from City College, Sinclair went on to graduate school at Columbia University, where he was attracted to the romantic poets and their belief in the power of literature to make an appreciable difference in the world. The thought of being able to influence the course of human events was so appealing to the young student that he decided to give up hack writing and concentrate on "real" writing instead.

The next few years were filled with nothing but misery for Sinclair, his wife, and their infant son as the writer watched his first three highly idealistic, semi-autobiographical novels fade into oblivion soon after being published. Increasingly bitter, depressed, and even physically ill from his life of deprivation, Sinclair decided to make one last attempt to write a popular romantic work. His dream of a Civil War trilogy never went beyond the first volume, Manassas, but this single novel proved to be the turning point in his career. With its theme of a rich young Southerner who rejects plantation life to join the abolitionist movement, Manassas demonstrated the author's growing interest in radical politics and eventually brought him to the attention of the American Socialists.

Embraced by Socialist Press

Once in contact with members of the socialist movement, Sinclair began studying philosophy and theoretics in earnest and was soon invited to contribute articles to major socialist publications. In late 1904, Fred D. Warren, editor of the magazine Appeal to Reason, approached Sinclair and challenged him to write about the "wage slaves" of industry in the same way he had written about the "chattel slaves" on the Southern plantations of Manassas. Encouraged by his editor at Macmillan, Sinclair accepted Warren's challenge and took as his starting point an article he had worked on that very summer dealing with an unsuccessful strike in the Chicago meat-packing industry. Thus in November 1904, having moved his wife and son to a small New Jersey farm he had bought with the five-hundred-dollar advance he received for his novel-to-be, The Jungle, Sinclair set out for Chicago, promising to "shake the popular heart and blow the roof off of the industrial tea-kettle." It was, noted Bloodworth in his study Upton Sinclair, a trip that "made a traumatic, life-long impression on him." Explained the critic: "What World War I meant to Ernest Hemingway, what the experiences of poverty and crime meant to Jack London, the combination of visible oppression and underlying corruption in Chicago in 1904 meant to Upton Sinclair. This kind of evidence, this kind of commitment to social justice became the primal experience of his fiction. For at least the next four decades, … Sinclair would continually retell the story of what happened to him in Chicago."

Sinclair's investigative work for The Jungle took seven weeks, during which time the young man talked with workers and visited packing plants, both on an official basis and in disguise. "I sat at night in the homes of the workers, foreign-born and native, and they told me their stories, one after one,

and I made notes of everything," he once recalled. "In the daytime I would wander about the yards, and their friends would risk their jobs to show me what I wanted to see."

Returning to New Jersey in December 1904, Sinclair began writing with his customary compulsiveness. "For three months," he said, "I worked incessantly. I wrote with tears and anguish, pouring into the pages all that pain which life had meant to me. Externally, the story had to do with a family of stock-yards workers, but internally it was the story of my own family. Did I wish to know how the poor suffered in winter time in Chicago? I had only to recall the previous winter in the cabin, where we had only cotton blankets, and had to put rugs on top of us, and cowered shivering in our separate beds. It was the same with hunger, with illness, with fear."

Sinclair fashioned his story around the experiences of Jurgis Rudkus, a fictional Lithuanian immigrant who arrives in Chicago with his family "expecting to achieve the American dream," Bloodworth wrote. "Instead," the critic continued, "their life becomes a nightmare of toil, poverty, and death…. [Rudkus] not only sees his father, wife, and son die, but he is also brutalized by working conditions in the Chicago packing houses and exploited by corrupt politics." To dramatize his story of pain and oppression, Sinclair included some unpleasant passages on the meat-packing process itself, focusing on the diseased and chemically tainted condition of the products manufacturers were offering to the American public.

Having spent most of his novel chronicling the tragedy of life in Packingtown, Sinclair was left with the problem of ending The Jungle on a note of socialist hope. It was not enough to show that capitalism crushed the lives of workers, he decided; he had to prove that socialism was the best way to overcome capitalist exploitation. Though Sinclair wanted to avoid sermonizing, he saw no alternative: his hero, devastated by his brutal experiences, was in no condition to lead a revolution. Thus, the author has the despondent Rudkus stumble into a political meeting where he undergoes what most critics have likened to a religious conversion, won to socialism as he listens to the words of various orators. Explained Bloodworth: "Sinclair finally presents Socialistic concepts in the closing chapters of [The Jungle] as part of a radical morality play in which the hero comes to accept as sinful the way in which he has worked unresistingly and individualistically within the capitalist system."

Sinclair completed The Jungle in late 1905. Though a serialized version in Appeal to Reason had begun to attract attention as early as the summer of that year, the book version caused officials at Macmillan and four other companies the author approached to balk at the idea of publishing potentially libelous material. Eventually, however, after sending investigators to Chicago to check out Sinclair's facts, the firm of Doubleday, Page and Company agreed to bring out The Jungle.

The Jungle Produces Public Outcry

The book appeared early in 1906 and, in an ironic twist of fate, was promoted not as a socialist novel, but as an exposé of "the flagrant violations of all hygienic laws in the slaughter of diseased cattle … and in the whole machinery of feeding a nation." Published at a time of growing public outcry against contaminated food, The Jungle shocked and infuriated Americans; it was, in fact, this widespread revulsion that made the book a best seller and its author a world-famous writer. Well aware of the real reason for The Jungle's success, Sinclair once remarked, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

Observed Alfred Kazin in his On Native Grounds: "The Jungle attracted attention because it was obviously the most authentic and most powerful of the muckraking novels. The romantic indignation of the book gave it its fierce honesty, but the facts in it gave Sinclair his reputation, for he had suddenly given an unprecedented social importance to muckraking. The sales of meat dropped, the Germans cited the book as an argument for higher import duties on American meat, Sinclair became a leading exponent of the muckraking spirit to thousands in America and Europe, and met with the president of the United States. No one could doubt it, the evidence was overwhelming: here in The Jungle was the great news story of a decade written out in letters of fire."

While few reviewers dispute the remarkable emotional impact of The Jungle, many believe its "letters of fire" do not constitute great literature. Its plot and characterization have come under increasingly heavy fire in the years since 1906. Bookman's Edward Clark Marsh, for instance, found it "impossible to withhold admiration of Mr. Sinclair's enthusiasm" as he describes the "intolerable" conditions in Packingtown. But "when [the author] betakes

himself to other scenes, and attempts to let his characters breathe the air of a more familiar life," continues the critic, "it is impossible not to recognize his ignorance." Furthermore, declared Marsh, "we do not need to be told that thievery, and prostitution, and political jobbery, and economic slavery exist in Chicago. So long as these truths are before us only as abstractions they are meaningless."

Several reviewers expressed disappointment with the book's ending, especially the abrupt switch from fiction to political rhetoric that occurs when Jurgis is converted to socialism. Writing in The Strenuous Age in American Literature, Grant C. Knight observed that the final section "is uplifting but it is also artificial, an arbitrary re-channelling of the narrative flow, a piece of rhetoric instead of a logical continuation of story." In his The Radical Novel in the United States, 1900-1954, Walter Rideout accepted the notion of a religious-like conversion to socialism as being "probable enough," but declared that from that point onward The Jungle becomes "intellectualized" as political philosophy supplants Jurgis as the novel's focus. In short, noted Bloodworth, Sinclair failed to "carry out his intentions of a heart-breaking story with imminent Socialism. Instead, he settled for an uneven story dealing mainly with proletarian experience until the last four chapters, which switch disturbingly to the Socialist movement, its leaders, and its ideas."

Some critics have regarded this ending not so much as a demonstration of Sinclair's lack of literary skill as a confirmation of his elitism and essentially nineteenth-century liberal—rather than socialist—bent. Like several of his colleagues, Rideout maintained that Sinclair has more in common with someone like Charles Dickens than with most other socialist writers, observing that the two men champion not "blood and barricades, but … humanitarianism and brotherly love." Granville Hicks, commenting in his book The Great Tradition, maintained that Sinclair's socialism was "of the emotional sort, a direct response to his own environment, and, as a result of his failure to undergo an intense intellectual discipline, … his bourgeois upbringing. Though his aim has been socialistic, his psychology has remained that of the liberal. Therefore, whether he realizes it or not, he is always writing for the middle class, trying to persuade his fellows to take their share of the burden of humanity's future, to pity the poor worker and strive for his betterment." Bloodworth also believed that Sinclair's socialism "had an obvious middle-class bias to it. Although he spoke for the lowest working classes, he spoke to a much wider audience in The Jungle. … [In the last few chapters of the novel] Sinclair's attitudes towards his protagonist and the lower social class he represents seem to take on qualities of paternalism and condescension…. The overcoming of capitalism that the orator speaks of does not really seem to be the task of the working class. The responsibilities fall mainly on the shoulders of men like himself—articulate, educated, even wealthy spokesmen." Brooks, noting that Sinclair fosters "the emotion of self-pity" among members of the working class because he chooses to depict "the helplessness, the benightedness, [and] the naivete of the American workers' movement," wondered how the author expects such an inept group to master their own fate and advance the cause of socialism.

Literature or Polemic?

To most critics, questions regarding the amount of literary skill or philosophical consistency in The Jungle remain beside the point; what does count, they say, is the book's undeniably strong emotional impact. Wrote Bloodworth: "As a work of modern fiction measured against the aesthetic achievements of a Henry James or a William Faulkner or a James Joyce, The Jungle hardly merits any discussion at all. Psychological complexity is alien to Sinclair's characterization, style is a matter of piling up details and modifiers, and structure is confused after the first twenty-one chapters." Nevertheless, the reviewer continued, "while such criticisms are common as well as obvious, they seem out of place, almost completely unrelated to the features of The Jungle that contribute to or detract from its significance and power…. In [simple] terms, The Jungle is a muckraking novel directed at documenting conditions and striving for an emotional response on the part of readers. In his novel Sinclair attacks traditional distinctions between literature and life. With The Jungle literature is less a way of ordering and interpreting experience—less the imposition of a particular artistic vision—than a way of simply presenting life and, in the subjective way that Sinclair does this, responding to it with regret, shame, and anger."

Writing in the New Republic, Robert Herrick presented an emphatic defense of Sinclair. "Sophisticated readers, professors and critics, hold that Mr. Sinclair's novels are not 'literature'—whatever that may mean," the critic noted. "If a passionate interest in the substance of all great literature—life, if a wide acquaintance with its special manifestations of the writer's own day, if a deep conviction about the values underlying its varied phenomena and the ability to set them forth, count in the making of enduring literature, all these Mr. Sinclair has demonstrated again and again that he possesses."

Never again did Sinclair write a novel with quite the impact of The Jungle. In fact, Bloodworth contended, the success of this one book "virtually guaranteed

that the rest of [Sinclair's] career would be anticlimactic." In the book Sixteen to One, David Karsner expanded on this idea, stating: "I cannot help but feel that The Jungle gave Sinclair a bad start by making him famous before he had reached his maturity as an artist. It chained him to propaganda and placed him in the literary pulpit where [he continued to preside] over our social morals and economic manners…. The true artist does not ad dress his readers from a rostrum."

Because of his many highly publicized failures and eccentricities, as well as his tendency to polarize readers and critics, Sinclair has proven to be somewhat of a problem for those attempting to determine his place in American literature. As Blood-worth pointed out in his study of the author: "Sympathetic critics have generally seen him as a passionate crusader who selflessly attacked injustice whenever it reared its ugly head in American life and who shied away from few subjects, however unpopular they were at the time…. On the other hand, detractors have always found Sinclair an easy target. Politically, he is not only open to attacks from conservative critics, but his liberal ideas are often inconsistent, his radicalism often naive. His support of such quackish causes as fasting and psychic healing has often been an embarrassment to readers who might agree with him politically. Recent radical critics, those with a New Left orientation, have found little inspiration in Sinclair. Above all, he has been scorned by literary critics and scholars who find him simple-minded and shallow beside the great twentieth-century writers who were, after all, his competitors in the race for reputation and recognition."

Noting that Sinclair was "never a great writer in the terms of style and structure, never a symbolist or a modernist, interested in the external affairs of society and politics rather than in the internal affairs of human consciousness, journalistic and populistic rather than poetic and eloquent," Bloodworth went on to characterize the author as "a nineteenth century moral idealist somewhat ill at ease in the twentieth century but almost totally committed to the exploration and, where possible, reform of the world around him…. No writer ever made [this subject] so exclusively his or her raison d' etre as Sinclair did. Even within a larger realization of his literary weaknesses and intellectual ambivalences, and taking into account even his blindness to racial oppression, Sinclair's commitment to social justice commands respect…. [His works have] survived to be read and to produce often striking effects." In short, concluded the critic, "no picture of twentieth century American life could pretend to be complete without him."

"Sinclair originated none of the ideas for which he propagandized, nor did he claim to have," observed Leon Harris in his book Upton Sinclair: American Rebel. "But he convinced millions of people all over the world of them. Other of his contemporary muckrakers played a greater role than he in effecting particular social change. But not one of them approached his total influence in regard to all the ideas he advocated. In the variety of his work and in his incomparable success in having it widely reprinted, discussed, attacked, and kept in print, Sinclair outweighed all other individual muckrakers."

If you enjoy the works of Upton Sinclair

If you enjoy the works of Upton Sinclair, you may also want to check out the following books:

Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities, 1904.

Jack London, War of the Classes, 1905.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939.

These sentiments were echoed by Arthur Koestler in his eightieth-birthday tribute to Sinclair, as recorded in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "Perhaps a writer is judged by posterity not so much by the actual text of his work as by the size of the hole that would be left in the fabric of history had he never lived. Other authors in our age outshone Sinclair in artistic quality, subtlety of characterization, and so on, but I can think of no contemporary writers whose non-existence would leave such a gaping hole in the face of the twentieth century than Upton Sinclair's."

Biographical and Critical Sources


American Writers, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.

Blinderman, Abraham, editor, Critics on Upton Sinclair, University of Miami Press (Miami, FL), 1975.

Bloodworth, William A., Jr., Upton Sinclair, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1977.

Brooks, Van Wyck, Sketches in Criticism, Dutton (New York, NY), 1932.

Brooks, Van Wyck, The Confident Years, Dutton (New York, NY), 1952.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 9, 1979, Volume 15, 1980, Volume 63, 1991.

Cowley, Malcolm, editor, After the Genteel Tradition: American Writers since 1910, Norton (New York, NY), 1937, published as After the Genteel Tradition: American Writers 1910-1930, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1964.

Dekle, Bernard, Profiles of Modern American Authors, Tuttle, 1969.

Dell, Floyd, Upton Sinclair: A Study in Social Protest, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1927, reprinted, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1970.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.

Evans, I. O., compiler, An Upton Sinclair Anthology, Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1934.

Gaer, Joseph, Upton Sinclair: Bibliography and Biographical Data, B. Franklin (New York, NY), 1971.

Gottesman, Ronald, Upton Sinclair: An Annotated Checklist, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1973.

Harris, Leon, Upton Sinclair: American Rebel, Crowell (New York, NY), 1975.

Harte, James Lambert, This Is Upton Sinclair, Rodale Press (Emaus, PA), 1938.

Hicks, Granville, The Great Tradition, revised edition, Biblo Tannen, 1967.

Karsner, David, Sixteen Authors to One, Books for Libraries, 1968.

Kazin, Alfred, On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1942.

Knight, Grant C., The Strenuous Age in American Literature, University of North Carolina Press (Durham, NC), 1954.

Loggins, Vernon, I Hear America …, Crowell (New York, NY), 1937.

Millgate, Michael, American Social Fiction, Oliver & Boyd (London, England), 1964, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1967.

Mitchell, Greg, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.

Mookerjee, R.N., Art for Social Justice: The Major Novels of Upton Sinclair, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1988.

Reference Guide to American Literature, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Rideout, Walter, The Radical Novel in the United States 1900-1954: Some Interrelations of Literature and Society, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1956.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Schreiber, Georges, editor, Portraits and Self-Portraits, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1936.

Scott, Ivan, Upton Sinclair: The Forgotten Socialist, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1996.

Sinclair, Upton, American Outpost (autobiography), Farrar & Rinehart (New York, NY), 1934.

Sinclair, Upton, The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1962.

Yoder, John A., Upton Sinclair, Ungar (New York, NY), 1975.


American Book Collector, Volume 20, number 8, 1970, Justin G. Turner, "Conversation with Upton Sinclair," pp. 7-10.

American Heritage, September-October, 1988, p. 34.

Atlantic, August, 1946; July-August, 2002, Christopher Hitchens, "A Capitalist Primer: Upton Sinclair's Realism Got the Better of His Socialism," p. 176.

Bookman, April, 1906.

Canadian Dimension, July-August, 1997, Fraser Bell, "The Other History," p. 35.

Chicago Tribune, April 16, 1932.

Christian Century, October 19, 1932.

College English, January, 1943; December, 1959.

Columbia Journalism Review, September-October, 1992, Curt Gentry, "Right Back Where We Started From," p. 60; March-April, 2003, James Boylan, review of The Brass Check, p. 57.

Critic, December, 1962-January, 1963.

Harper's, March, 1961.

Library Journal, April 15, 2003, Michael Rogers, review of The Jungle, p. 132.

Monthly Review, December, 1991, Christopher Phelps, review of The Jungle, p. 58; May, 2002, Robert W. McChesney and Ben Scott, "Upton Sinclair and the Contradictions of Capitalist Journalism," p. 1.

Nation, February 4, 1931; April 13, 1932.

New Republic, October 7, 1931; June 22, 1932, February 24, 1937; June 24, 1940; January 11, 1943; September 29, 1958; December 1, 1962; December 1, 1997, Richard White, review of Oil!, p. 38.

New Yorker, June 26, 1995, p. 66.

New York Herald Tribune, February 11, 1960.

New York Herald Tribune Books, December 9, 1962.

New York Times, March 3, 1906; June 16, 1906, August 22, 1988.

New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1962.

Publishers Weekly, December 13, 2004, review of The Jungle, p. 47.

Saturday Review, March 3, 1928; August 28, 1948.

Saturday Review of Literature, May 7, 1932.

Spectator, July 9, 1932.

Studies in American Fiction, spring, 1995, Scott Derrick, "What a Beating Feels Like: Authorship, Dissolution, and Masculinity in Sinclair's The Jungle," p. 85.

Time, December 14, 1962.

Utopian Studies, spring, 2001, Arthur O. Lewis, review of The Millennium, a Comedy of the Year 2000, p. 385.

Vanity Fair, August, 1991, p. 176.



Detroit Free Press, November 26, 1968.

Nation, December 9, 1968.

National Observer, December 2, 1968.

New York Times, November 27, 1968.

Publishers Weekly, December 9, 1968.

Time, December 6, 1968.

Times (London, England), November 27, 1968.

Washington Post, November 27, 1968.*

Sinclair, Upton

views updated May 23 2018

Upton Sinclair

Excerpt from The Jungle
Originally published in 1905; available at The Literature Network (Web site)

"For it was the custom, as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be used for anything else, either to can it or else to chop it up into sausage."

The Industrial Revolution (approximately 1877–1900) in America created hundreds of thousands of much-needed jobs in the last half of the nineteenth century. Native-born Americans as well as the millions of immigrants (people who leave their country to settle in a foreign land) who crossed the oceans to land at Ellis Island near New York City and Angel Island in San Francisco, California (immigration processing centers), filled those low-paying positions. Many of the jobs involved long hours and backbreaking work.

Working conditions in factories and industry were unsafe and heartless. Company owners and management were, in general, more concerned with making money than with their employees' safety and health. To these men, any money spent on employees—whether in terms of wages, benefits, or sanitary and safe working conditions—meant less money for their own pockets. The connection between healthy, happy workers and high levels of productivity was not obvious in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era.

Working-class urban America had firsthand experience working in these miserable conditions. Most men of the upper class also were aware of the plight of industrial workers. After all, their families were living lives of luxury at the direct expense of the overworked employees. The rest of society was either unaware or simply did not understand the degree of suffering imposed upon workers.

This state of ignorance changed when a new breed of journalists—called muckrakers—began publishing articles, novels, and exposés on America's hidden exploitation (improper use of a person for someone else's gain) of its workers. Muckrakers were given their name by U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9), who acknowledged the journalists' important role in exposing industrial greed and exploitation.

Muckraking was the result of two related phenomena in the early twentieth century. Journalists breaking into print at that time were formally educated, trained to write about issues with a focus on accuracy and truth. This education separated these "new" journalists from the "old" journalists, who tended to sensationalize (exaggerate facts and focus on the emotional aspects of) their stories to increase their appeal to readers. The atmosphere of America at the turn of the century was one of reform. Many major changes had occurred in the last half of the nineteenth century, largely due to industrialism; not all of the changes were good. Reform was necessary if progress was to continue. Muckrakers embodied the spirit of new journalism and reform. Through their writings, America received both an education in the working conditions of the time and its inspiration to change them.

In 1904, a young journalist named Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) was sent by his editors to Chicago, Illinois, to investigate and report on the lives of workers in the stockyards (enclosed yards where food animals are temporarily kept before going to slaughter). Sinclair spent seven weeks in the meatpacking plants, where he learned every detail of every step of the process of how a cow or a pig becomes meat for human consumption. He lived among and interviewed hundreds of workers and became familiar with both their work and home lives. The journalist left Chicago with a thorough understanding of the structure of the meatpacking business.

The result of Sinclair's research was The Jungle, a story that appeared serially (one chapter at a time) in Appeal to Reason, the newspaper for which Sinclair wrote. The writer had approached a handful of publishing companies in hopes of getting his work published, but he was told by all of them that his book was too shocking for America's reading tastes. Sinclair financed the first printing of The Jungle himself and announced in the newspaper that the story would be available in book form. In doing so, he received twelve thousand prepaid orders for the book. Finally, Doubleday, Page, & Company learned of the interest and took

Gustavus Swift: The Man Who Changed the Meat Industry

Gustavus Swift (1839–1903) arrived in Chicago in 1875. He would become owner of one of the two largest companies in the meatpacking industry. (Philip Armour was the other; see box.) Swift began his career as a country butcher in Massachusetts. He began dealing in cattle and moved west with the business until he arrived in Chicago at the age of thirty-six. At that time, Chicago's meat business was in pork, not beef. Refrigeration technology did not yet exist, so in order to safely ship meat across the country, it had to be salted or smoked. This worked for pork, but Americans liked their beef fresh. So although cattle were moving through Chicago, they were not butchered there. Instead, the animals were sold and shipped live to regions where the demand for fresh beef was greatest: the ever-growing cities in the East.

As the human population in the East was increasing, so were the number of cattle in the West. Herds of cattle were being driven to new railroad towns such as Abilene, Kansas. From there, they were sent to Chicago and on to other parts of the country. Shipping the cattle live, however, was not cost effective. The animals would get hurt in transit, which lowered their price and ability to be eaten.

The solution was to find a way to slaughter the cattle in Chicago and ship only the edible parts East. Swift began shipping beef in winter by rail, with the boxcar doors open. That was not an ideal situation. In 1878, Swift hired an engineer named Andrew Chase to develop an improved refrigerated train car. Although the refrigerated car had already been invented in 1868, it did not work well and so was not used. Chase was successful, and his refrigeration technology made Chicago the meat-packing center of America. At the same time, the meat business became Chicago's main industry.

Now that beef could safely be shipped to the East, Swift needed storage facilities, and he built them. The meat also had to be sold, so he hired a sales crew and established a distribution system in every major city. A massive advertising campaign convinced consumers that Swift meats were safe. Soon, the demand for his product required him to build five more packing plants.

Swift then organized stockyards to buy large quantities of cattle on a regular basis. When that proved successful, he branched out to manufacture and sell animal by-products (something produced in addition to a main product) such as glue, fertilizer, and soap. By controlling each step in the process of his business, Swift transformed into one of the first vertically integrated companies. Vertical integration is a business concept whereby one person or company controls each aspect or function of a process, allowing for the most profits. Vertical integration was a new idea in America, and Swift proved its effectiveness.

over publication. The published version was highly censored because of the disturbing details of the treatment of animals and workers. The original manuscript was a full third longer than the version published in 1906.

Philip Armour: Brutal Businessman, Generous Citizen

Philip Armour (1833–1901) started a grain business in Chicago during the Civil War. Eventually, he and his brother opened a meatpacking business near the Union Stock Yards (a company that operated for 106 years and made Chicago the center of the nation's meatpacking industry). Armour took control of the operation when his brother became ill.

Armour's packinghouse process was based on a new idea. Instead of having one man butcher one hog, each worker was given one specific task. As the animals hung from a line and moved down the cutting line, each worker completed his task. By the end of the line, very little was left of the slaughtered animal.

Like Gustavus Swift, the other meatpacking king, Armour sold animal by-products such as oil, hairbrushes, and drugs. Even low-grade meats found a use in canned products such as pork and beans. This efficiency reduced the amount of pollution from Armour's factories, but the meat itself was not necessarily safe to eat. Before the Food and Drug Act of 1906, sausages included sawdust and dead rodents, and even spoiled meat was packed and sold.

As were many of his peers, Armour was more concerned about profit than his employees' well-being. A 1911 study confirmed that the average weekly wage for an Armour employee was $9.50. At the time, the living wage (the minimum amount that will cover bills and necessities) was $15.40. Workers went on strike (refused to work) at his factories three times, but Armour refused to negotiate. Despite these harsh decisions, Armour was praised in society for his charitable donations. His favorite charity was the Armour Mission, established by a brother. The mission offered a free kindergarten, a library, and medical care. He also donated money to the Armour Institute, which provided technical education for white and African American boys and training in the trades for girls.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from The Jungle:

  • Just prior to the publication of The Jungle, America was horrified to learn that the beef industry had been sending American soldiers in the Spanish-American War (1898) beef that had been preserved with embalming fluid (the liquid injected into the veins of corpses to keep them fresh looking). Soldiers became so ill from the meat that they could not fight. Some blamed the tainted meat for the deaths of countless soldiers. The event became a major scandal.
  • Common food preservatives used at the turn of the century included borax (used in laundry detergents; acts as a disinfectant); formaldehyde (a toxic chemical that causes leukemia and brain cancer); salicylic acid (a chemical that removes the top layers of skin; also found in aspirin); and other dangerous compounds and chemicals.
  • Although The Jungle was not the first piece of muckraking journalism, it is considered by many historians to be the greatest example of this style of writing because of its impact.
  • The following excerpts from The Jungle are from chapters 9 and 14.

Excerpt from The Jungle

There were the men in the pickle rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle rooms, and he might have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one. Of the butchers and floorsmen, the beef-boners and trimmers, and all those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who had the use of his thumb; time and time again the base of it had been slashed, till it was a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. The hands of these men would be criss-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails,—they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan. There were men who worked in the cooking rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply was renewed every hour. There were the beef-luggers, who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; a fearful kind of work, that began at four o'clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years. There were those who worked in the chilling rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time limit that a man could work in the chilling rooms was said to be five years. There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hand chopped off. There were the "hoisters," as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham 's architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor,—for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,—sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard!

There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white—it would be dosed with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one—there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale water—and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public's breakfast. Some of it they would make into "smoked" sausage—but as the smoking took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their chemistry department, and preserve it with borax and color it with gelatine to make it brown. All of their sausage came out of the same bowl, but when they came to wrap it they would stamp some of it "special," and for this they would charge two cents more a pound.

What happened next …

The Jungle was an immediate success, not only in the United States but overseas as well. A copy was sent to President Roosevelt at the White House. Roosevelt, an avid reader who was known to read a book a day at times, was so moved and angered by the information in Sinclair's novel that he wired the author to come to the White House immediately to discuss the situation. Sinclair went from being a wage-earning newspaper reporter to a social activist seemingly overnight.

The Jungle was more than just a book about the exploitation of immigrants in Chicago's meatpacking industry. In one book, Sinclair exposed the brutality of the Chicago police force, corrupt politicians, hazardous working conditions in the steel mill industry, dishonest real estate developers, and more. More than anything, the book heightened public awareness of safety issues regarding food preparation. Public pressure forced Congress to consider a Pure Food and Drug bill in 1906. The bill would require the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration, which would be responsible for testing all food and drugs meant for human consumption. Certain drugs would require a written prescription from a licensed medical doctor before they could be purchased, and any habit-forming drugs would need a warning label.

Congress was in no hurry to pass the bill. Some of their biggest campaign contributors belonged to the powerful beef trust (several companies banding together to form an organization that limits competition by controlling the production and distribution of a product or service) and other wealthy and influential groups. Passage of the bill would certainly outrage these people. When it became apparent that the bill was in danger of not passing, President Roosevelt got involved and encouraged Congress to overcome its reluctance. The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed on June 30, 1906.

From the pages of Puck

One of the most important political magazines of the Progressive Era was called Puck. The periodical attacked the corruption of the beef trust even before Upton Sinclair's exposé was published. The following poem was published in the June 20, 1906, issue of Puck, and puts a humorous twist on the concerns the nation had about food safety at the time.

What to Eat  
What shall I eat? I will no longer feed
On meat and cater to the packer's
Let's see. There's fish—as fresh as e'er
  was seen—
Made fresh by rubbing it with Vaseline.
The market man "restores" and
  "touches up"
The somewhat faded fish on which
  I sup.
There's "full cream cheese" that's
  innocent of cream,
For things, you know, are seldom what
  they seem.
There's butter—more skimmed milk
After a dosing with formaldehyde.
What shall I eat? Perhaps some tea and
The cake is made with "bottled eggs,"
  "egg flake,"
Or other doctored product of the hen,
Laid long ago—I know not where or
The tea, touched up with graphite,
Who know?—
From China or—more likely—from
There's raspberry jam, made up of
  equal parts
Of apple cores and glucose—nice on
But why continue the enumeration
Of substitution and adulteration.
Until the thought of eating makes one ill?
And yet I scan the café's dismal bill [of
For I must eat. What shall I eat?
Ho, waiter!
Fetch me two boiled eggs and a baked

Accompanying that piece of legislation was another bill aimed specifically at the meatpacking industry. The Meat Inspection Act, signed by Roosevelt on the same day as the Pure Food and Drug Act, required all animals to be inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prior to slaughter. Any found with disease would be prohibited from becoming food for humans. All carcasses (bodies after death) were also inspected, as some disease was not obvious until the bodies were cut open. Finally, slaughterhouses and processing plants were now required to meet cleanliness standards. These standards would be enforced by regular inspection of facilities by U.S. Department of Agriculture officials.

On June 23, 2005, the Union Stock Yard Gate in Chicago was dedicated by the Friends of Libraries USA as a Literary Landmark. The landmark commemorated the one hundredth anniversary of the publishing of The Jungle. The Union Stock Yards closed in 1971 and only the gate remains as a National Historic Landmark.

Did you know …

  • A common tactic in the twenty-first century for helping meat retain that juicy, red freshness is to pump the plastic-wrapped tray packaging with carbon monoxide, which keeps the flesh from turning brown. The carbon monoxide itself is not a problem—the amount added to packaging is low enough so that it is harmless; the concern, critics say, is that the gas's effect on the meat's color may cover up spoilage. Consumers often use color of meat as a gauge to freshness. Shoppers are urged to buy meat based on the freshness date stamped on packaging—not based on how red or brown the meat is.
  • Most twenty-first-century food-processing plants continue to rely primarily on underpaid immigrants, refugees, and minorities for their employees.
  • A mixture of used restaurant cooking grease and rendered animal fat (that which has been boiled off the animal carcass before slaughter) is a major component in most commercially produced pet foods.
  • Five thousand animals a day were butchered in Chicago's Union Stockyards before the passage of the Food and Drug Act in 1906.

Consider the following …

  • If you found out that the meat you eat was not safe for consumption, how difficult would it be for you to become a vegetarian, and how would you go about it?
  • You are the manager of an early twentieth-century meatpacking plant. The owner has instructed you to keep production and profits up, even if it means your employees suffer. What are some ways you could help the workers without slowing down production?
  • You are a worker in a meatpacking plant like the one Sinclair investigated. You know how filthy the plant is, how unsafe the meat is, and how the company cheats consumers. But you desperately need the work. What would you do?

For More Information


Arthur, Anthony. Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair. New York: Random House, 2006.

Jensen, Carl. Stories That Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000.

Mattson, Kevin. Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006.

Poole, Steven. Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality. New York: Grove Press, 2006.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1906. Multiple reprints.

Weinberg, Arthur, ed., and Lila Shaffer Weinberg, ed. The Muckrakers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961. Reprint, Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001.


"Gustavus Swift and the Refrigerator Car." A Biography of America: Industrial Supremacy. (accessed on August 15, 2006).

"The Jungle." The Literature Network. (accessed on August 15, 2006).

"The Jungle." SparkNotes. (accessed on August 15, 2006).

Junod, Suzanne White. "In Roosevelt's Name We Bust Trusts: The Meat Inspection Act of 1906." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (accessed on August 15, 2006).

Nichols, Rick. "Meat of the Issue: FDA on the Wrong Side." (accessed on August 15, 2006).

PBS. "Philip Danforth Armour (1833–1901)." American Experience: Chicago, City of the Century. (accessed on August 15, 2006).

"Swift and Company." The Handbook of Texas Online. (accessed on August 15, 2006).

Weiss, Rick. "FDA Is Urged to Ban Carbon-Monoxide-Treated Meat." (accessed on August 15, 2006).

Pickle rooms:
Areas where meat was preserved in saltwater or vinegar.
Old Antanas:
A worker at the packinghouse.
Spot of horror:
Put him out of the world:
Kill him.
A contagious disease of the lungs.
A painful, crippling disorder of the joints, muscles, and connective tissues.
Owner of the slaughterhouse.
A cleaning agent commonly found in laundry detergent.
A sweet, thick liquid found in fat and used to dissolve things.
Vats of boiling water and chemicals.
Made over again:
Reformed to look new.
Common term for tuberculosis.
A mixture of proteins from animal bones, tissues, and other body parts.

Sinclair, Upton

views updated May 23 2018

Upton Sinclair

Excerpts from The Jungle

Published in 1906

"There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about it."

Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) was among a group of writers in the first decade of the twentieth century who were known as muckrakers; the term refers to someone who clears manure from a stall. These writers specialized in writing articles (or, in the case of Sinclair, novels) exposing abuses and wrongdoing by the major business leaders and corporations of the era. They were given their nickname by Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), himself a champion of corporate reform.

In 1906 Sinclair published what would turn out to be his most popular novel, The Jungle. It tells the story of a family of immigrants from Lithuania who come to Chicago, looking to achieve the American dream of a better life. Instead they find the American nightmare: poverty, death, and despair.

The principal character in the book is Jurgis (YOORghis) Rudkus, a young man from rural Lithuania. Jurgis and his extended family (wife, children, parents-in-law) settle in Chicago. There, the adults in the family get jobs in the city's huge packinghouse industry, where animals are slaughtered and butchered and sent out to stores as food.

At first, Jurgis is optimistic. Money is in short supply, but he vows to work harder to earn more. Gradually, however, Jurgis is consumed by his job. He is cheated out of money when buying a house. The horrific working conditions in the packinghouse—wading for hours in cold water, for example—destroy his health and the health of other family members. There is not enough money for a doctor when illness strikes.

The tale of Jurgis's woes was the story Upton Sinclair intended to tell, with the aim of arousing sympathy for the desperately poor workers in Chicago's stockyards (temporary places to keep cattle before they are slaughtered.)

However, in the course of telling the story of Jurgis, Sinclair also told another story: how hogs and cattle were processed and sent to food markets. The book includes graphic descriptions of how packinghouses treated rotten meat with chemicals and packaged it in cans to be sold to unsuspecting consumers. Sinclair described the filthy conditions surrounding the processing of meat, and he wrote of ineffective federal inspectors who were bribed to look the other way and ignore violations of regulations governing sanitation.

It was this consumer aspect of The Jungle that captured the nation's attention. The public was outraged to read (even if in a novel) that rotten meat was being repackaged in sausage and in canned products that might end up on the tables of middle-class citizens. In some respects, The Jungle was one of the most effective pieces of writing ever published, in terms of arousing the public and causing the federal government to tighten regulations governing the sale of food products.

Things to remember while reading the excerpts from The Jungle:

  • The Jungle is a novel, a work of fiction. But it is based on facts uncovered by Sinclair during nearly two months spent talking to the packinghouse workers in Chicago. Because of the book's realistic treatment of the subject, the public believed that they were reading a factual account of how business was conducted in the stockyards, and they demanded that Congress crack down with tougher rules and tighter inspections.
  • Another of Sinclair's themes was the "beef trust," a group of seemingly competitive beef-processing companies that got together to drive up the price of meat. (A trust is a company that owns several other companies in the same industry, with the aim of stifling competition.) Government lawsuits to break up such trusts, and to enforce competition, was a major initiative of President Theodore Roosevelt (see entry), who was in office when The Jungle was published.
  • The Industrial Revolution (the period when machines and factories came into widespread use in manufacturing) was not limited to the automobile and textile industries. It also extended into agriculture, and especially the processing of animals for food. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, a farmer or rancher might have been responsible for slaughtering and preparing his own animals for a local market (a lack of refrigeration required that most foods were sold near where they were raised). The Jungle told how industrial processes had been applied to the food industry, enabling big companies to employ elements of the factory system in raising and slaughtering beef, for example, and distributing foods on a larger scale than was possible before.
  • At the beginning of this excerpt, Jurgis Rudkus has just arrived in Chicago, where he will join relatives who arrived earlier from Lithuania. He is taking a tour of Durham's, a giant meatpacking company at which he will soon get a job. Later excerpts, from other chapters, highlight some of his experiences, describing the ways meatpackers created a variety of products—much to the dismay of consumers.

Excerpts from The Jungle

Chapter 3

Jurgis went down the line with the rest of the visitors, staring openmouthed, lost in wonder. He haddressed hogs himself in the forest of Lithuania; but he had never expected to live to see one hog dressed by several hundred men. It was like a wonderful poem to him, and he took it all inguilelessly —even to theconspicuous signs demanding immaculate cleanliness of the employees. Jurgis wasvexed when thecynical Jokubas translated these signs with sarcastic comments, offering to take them to the secret rooms where the spoiled meats went to bedoctored.


Then the party went across the street to where they did the killing of beef—where every hour they turned four or five hundred cattle into meat. Unlike the place they had left, all this work was done on one floor; and instead of there being one line ofcarcasses which moved to the workmen, there were fifteen or twenty lines, and the men moved from one to another of these. This made a scene of intense activity, a picture of human power wonderful to watch. It was all in one great room, like a circusamphitheater , with agallery for visitors running over the center.

Bodies of dead animals.
A space.

Along one side of the room ran a narrow gallery, a few feet from the floor; into which gallery the cattle were driven by men withgoads which gave them electric shocks.Once crowded in here, the creatures were prisoned, each in a separate pen, by gates that shut, leaving them no room to turn around; and while they stoodbellowing and plunging, over the top of the pen there leaned one of the "knockers," armed with a sledge hammer, and watching for a chance to deal a blow. The room echoed with the thuds in quick succession, and the stamping and kicking of the steers. The instant the animal had fallen, the "knocker" passed on to another; while a second man raised a lever, and the side of the pen was raised, and the animal, still kicking and struggling, slid out to the "killing bed." Here a man putshackles about one leg, and pressed another lever, and the body was jerked up into the air. There were fifteen or twenty such pens, and it was a matter of only a couple of minutes to knock fifteen or twenty cattle and roll them out. Then once more the gates were opened, and another lot rushed in; and so out of each pen there rolled a steady stream of carcasses, which the men upon the killing beds had to get out of the way.

Pointed rods.
Making loud, deep sounds.

The manner in which they did this was something to be seen and never forgotten. They worked with furious intensity, literally upon the run—at a pace with which there is nothing to be compared except a football game. It was all highly specialized labor, each man having his task to do; generally this would consist of only two or three specific cuts, and he would pass down the line of fifteen or twenty carcasses, making these cuts upon each. First there came the "butcher," to bleed them; this meant one swift stroke, so swift that you could not see it—only the flash of the knife; and before you could realize it, the man had darted on to the next line, and a stream of bright red was pouring out upon the floor. This floor was half an inch deep with blood, in spite of the best efforts of men who kept shoveling it through holes; it must have made the floor slippery, but no one could have guessed this by watching the men at work.…

No tiniest particle oforganic matter was wasted in Durham's. Out of the horns of the cattle they made combs, buttons, hairpins,and imitation ivory; out of the shinbones and other big bones they cut knife and toothbrush handles, and mouthpieces for pipes; out of the hoofs they cut hairpins and buttons, before they made the rest into glue. From such things as feet, knuckles, hide clippings, andsinews came such strange and unlikely products asgelatin ,isin-glass , andphosphorus ,bone black ,shoe blacking , andbone oil . They had curled-hair works for the cattle tails, and a "wool pullery" for the sheepskins; they madepepsin from the stomachs of the pigs, andalbumen from the blood, and violin strings from the ill-smellingentrails . When there was nothing else to be done with a thing, they first put it into a tank and got out of it all thetallow and grease, and then they made it into fertilizer.…

A substance used in making jelly.
A substance used to make glue.
A nonmetallic element.
Bone black:
A chemical used in making sugar.
Shoe blacking:
Shoe polish.
Bone oil:
Substance used as solvent.
A substance used in aiding digestion.
A protein found in blood serum.
Animal fat used to make soap and candles.

Chapter 5

It seemed that Antanas Rudkus [Jurgis's father] was working in the room where the men prepared the beef for canning, and the beef had lain in vats full of chemicals, and men with great forks speared it out and dumped it intotrucks, to be taken to the cooking room. When they had speared out all they could reach, they emptied the vat on the floor, and then with shovels scraped up the balance and dumped it into the truck. This floor was filthy, yet they set Antanas with his mop slopping the"pickle" into a hole that connected with a sink, where it was caught and used over again forever; and if that were not enough, there was a trap in the pipe, where all the scraps of meat and odds and ends of refuse were caught, and every few days it was the old man's task to clean these out, and shovel their contents into one of the trucks with the rest of the meat!…

Hand carts.
A solution for cleaning or preserving.

One day a man slipped and hurt his leg; and that afternoon, when the last of the cattle had been disposed of, and the men were leaving, Jurgis was ordered to remain and do some special work which this injured man had usually done. It was late, almost dark, and the government inspectors had all gone, and there were only a dozen or two of men on the floor. That day they had killed about four thousand cattle, and these cattle had come in freight trains from far states, and some of them had got hurt. There were some with broken legs, and some withgored sides; there were some that had died, from what cause no one could say; and they were all to be disposed of, here in darkness and silence. "Downers," the men called them; and the packinghouse had a special elevator upon which they were raised to the killing beds, where the gang proceeded to handle them, with an air of businesslikenonchalance which
said plainer than any words that it was a matter of everyday routine. It took a couple of hours to get them out of the way, and in the end Jurgis saw them go into thechilling rooms with the rest of the meat, being carefully scattered here and there so that they could not be identified. When he came home that night he was in a verysomber mood, having begun to see at last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America.…

Chilling rooms:
Large refrigerators.

Chapter 9

Then one Sunday evening … Jurgis learned a few things about the great and only Durham canned goods, which had become a national institution. They were regularalchemists at Durham's; they advertised a mushroom-catsup, and the men who made it did not know what a mushroom looked like. They advertised "potted chick-en,"—and it was like the boardinghouse soup of the comic papers, through which a chicken had walked withrubbers on. Perhaps they had a secret process for making chickens chemically—who knows? said Jurgis' friend; the things that went into the mixture weretripe ,and the fat of pork, and beefsuet , and hearts of beef, and finally the waste ends of veal, when they had any. They put these up in severalgrades , and sold them at several prices; but the contents of the cans all came out of the samehopper . And then there was "potted game" and "potted grouse," "potted ham," and "deviled ham"—de-vyled, as the men called it. "De-vyled" ham was made out of the waste ends of smoked beef that were too small to be sliced by the machines; and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white; and trimmings of hams and corned beef; and potatoes, skins and all; and finally the hardcartilaginous gul-lets of beef, after the tongues had been cut out. All thisingenious mixture was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something. Anybody who could invent a new imitation had been sure of a fortune from old Durham, said Jurgis'informant ; but it was hard to think of anything new in a place where so many sharp wits had been at work for so long; where men welcomedtuberculosis in the cattle they were feeding, because it made them fatten more quickly; and where they bought up all the oldrancid butter left over in the grocery stores of a continent, and "oxidized " it by a forced-air process, to take away the odor,rechurned it with skim milk, and sold it in bricks in the cities! Up to a year or two ago it had been the custom to kill horses in the yards—ostensibly for fertilizer; but after long agitation the newspapers had been able to make the public realize that the horses were being canned. Now it was against the law to kill horses inPackingtown, and the law was really complied with—for the present, at any rate. Any day, however, one might see sharp-horned and shaggy-haired creatures running with the sheep and yet what a job you would have to get the public to believe that a good part of what it buys for lamb andmutton is really goat's flesh! …

People who claim to transform common substances into something valuable.
Stomach tissue.
Animal fat.
Cartilaginous gullets:
Throats comprising cartilage.
Source of information.
A lung disease.
Combined with oxygen.
Stirring again.
The area in Chicago where packing-houses were located.
Flesh from a mature sheep.

With one member trimming beef in acannery , and another working in a sausage factory, the family had a first-hand knowledge of the great majority of Packingtownswindles . For it was the custom, as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be used for anything else, either to can it or else to chop it up into sausage. With what had been told them by Jonas, who had worked in the pickle rooms, they could now study the whole of the spoiled-meat industry on the inside, and read a new and grim meaning into that old Packingtown jest—that they use everything of the pig except the squeal.

Factory for canning food.
Dishonest schemes.

Jonas had told them how the meat that was taken out of pickle would often be found sour, and how they would rub it up with sodato take away the smell, and sell it to be eaten onfree-lunch counters ; also of all the miracles of chemistry which they performed, giving to any sort of meat, fresh or salted, whole or chopped, any color and any flavor and any odor they chose. In the pickling of hams they had an ingeniousapparatus , by which they saved time and increased the capacity of the plant—a machine consisting of a hollow needle attached to a pump; by plunging this needle into the meat and working with his foot, a man could fill a ham with pickle in a few seconds. And yet, in spite of this, there would be hams found spoiled, some of them with an odor so bad that a man could hardly bear to be in the room with them. To pump into these the packers had a second and much stronger pickle which destroyed the odor—a process known to the workers as "giving them thirty per cent." Also, after the hams had been smoked, there would be found some that had gone to the bad. Formerly these had been sold as "Number Three Grade," but later on some ingenious person had hit upon a new device, and now they wouldextract the bone, about which the bad part generally lay, and insert in the hole a white-hot iron. After this invention there was no longer Number One, Two, and Three Grade—there was only Number One Grade. The packers were always originating such schemes—they had what they called "boneless hams," which were all the odds and ends of pork stuffed intocasings ; and "California hams," which were the shoulders, with big knuckle joints, and nearly all the meat cut out; and fancy "skinned hams," which were made of the oldest hogs, whose skins were so heavy and coarse that no one would buy them—that is, until they had been cooked and chopped fine and labeled "head cheese !" …

Free-lunch counters:
Bars that did not charge customers for food when also ordering beer or whiskey.
Take from.
Membranous materials for processed meat.
Head cheese:
A jelly substance made from parts of the head, feet, and other organs of animals.

Chapter 14

It was only when the whole ham was spoiled that it came into the department of Elzbieta [mother-in-law of Jurgis]. Cut up by the two-thousand-revolutions-a-minute flyers, and mixed with half a ton of other meat, no odor that ever was in a ham could make any difference. There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white—it would bedosed withborax andglycerine , and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions ofconsumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousandsof rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the drieddung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one—there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale water—and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public's breakfast. Some of it they would make into "smoked" sausage—but as the smoking took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their chemistry department, and preserve it with borax and color it with gelatine to make it brown. All of their sausage came out of the same bowl, but when they came to wrap it they would stamp some of it "special," and for this they would charge two cents more a pound.

Treated with.
Cleaning compound.
Chemical used to dissolve fat.

What happened next …

Just months after publication of The Jungle, federal legislation was passed mandating improved inspection of meat, as well as requiring labels listing the ingredients of canned food products. The legislation had been proposed years earlier, but a combination of business interests resisted it, arguing that it was not the business of the federal government to regulate what people ate. The Jungle demonstrated clearly that people had no way of knowing what was in canned food, and therefore needed government regulation to keep foods safe.

Although women could not vote in 1906, many women were members of clubs that were politically active. They played an important role in persuading the Congress to pass legislation to crack down on abuses in the food industry.

It took longer, however, to address the abuses suffered by workers in the stockyards. Upton Sinclair, who was a socialist, continued to write for decades, constantly promoting laws that would prevent the sort of abuses of poor, unsophisticated workers that he cataloged in The Jungle. None of his subsequent works, however, had the impact of this book.

Did you know …

Prior to the Food and Drug Act, the final passage of which was speeded by The Jungle, manufacturers regularly sold "patent medicine" containing ingredients such as opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine—all dangerous narcotics—without mentioning their presence on product labels. There were no regulations limiting what could be bottled and sold under names such as "Kick-a-poo Indian Sagwa" and "Warner's Safe Cure for Diabetes."

For more information


Hampe, Edward C., Jr., and Merle Wittenberg. The Lifeline of America; Development of the Food Industry. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.

Jensen, Carl. Stories That Changed America: Muckrakers of the TwentiethCentury. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000.

Miller, Walter James. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle: A Critical Commentary. New York: Monarch Press, 1983.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1906.

Weinberg, Arthur, and Lila Weinberg, eds. The Muckrakers. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Sinclair, Upton

views updated Jun 11 2018

Upton Sinclair

BORN: September 20, 1878 • Baltimore, Maryland

DIED: November 25, 1968 • Bound Brook, New Jersey

Writer; socialist

Upton Sinclair was a struggling writer until the publication of his fifth novel, The Jungle, in 1906. Then, seemingly overnight, the twenty-seven-year-old author found fame. That novel secured him a place among the ranks of famous muckrakers, journalists who took it upon themselves to uncover scandal and corruption among America's big businesses and politics.

"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

Early life of struggle

Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 20, 1878. His father was a liquor salesman, a job that contributed to his alcoholism. Sinclair's mother, Priscilla Harden, despised alcohol and refused to drink tea or coffee because they contain caffeine. These conflicting attitudes were the source of much tension in the future writer's childhood home. The Sinclair family moved to New York when Upton was ten. A hat salesman by day, his father spent his nights at local bars. Sinclair later revealed in his writing that those early years were filled with uncertainty. As reported on, "As far back as I can remember, my life was a series of Cinderella transformations; one night I would be sleeping on a vermin-ridden sofa in a lodging house, and the next night under silken coverlets in a fashionable home. It all depended on whether my father had the money for that week's board." When conditions in the Sinclair home got particularly bad, Sinclair would be sent to live with his wealthy grandparents. This back-and-forth lifestyle gave him early insight into the many differences between those who have wealth and those who do not.

Reading and writing became a means of escape for a young Sinclair. By the age of fifteen, he was writing dime novels (popular, inexpensive books with simple plots, and always written with much drama; usually adventures, mysteries, or romances). To help pay his tuition at New York City College, he supplemented his meager income by writing for pulp magazines. These periodicals were cheaply produced and sold for twenty-five cents in the late 1880s, when they first hit newsstands. Most pulp magazines were all fiction, though some included true stories as well.

Sinclair enrolled in New York's Columbia University in 1897; he helped finance his educational endeavor by writing adventure stories for boys weeklies. The weeklies were small newspapers written specifically for a young, male audience. They could be bought for two or three pennies. Every issue contained serial fiction (stories told, one adventure at a time, throughout each edition of the paper). These stories involved young boys in familiar settings, such as public school. Each story included likeable characters engaging in activities familiar to readers, like playing football, getting into trouble with teachers or parents, and telling jokes. At this point, Sinclair had two secretaries to whom he would dictate his stories. At the same time he was writing almost non-stop, he was completing his studies. He even managed to teach himself how to speak French in just six weeks. This intense work habit would stay with him throughout his life. By the time of his death at the age of ninety, he had written and published nearly one hundred books.

A socialist is born

In 1900, Sinclair married Meta Fuller, the daughter of a friend of his mother's. The marriage was unfulfilling and ended in 1913, but not before producing a son, David. Sinclair wrote several novels during that decade of marriage, but they did not sell well, and the family lived a life of intense poverty. Even though his novels were unsuccessful, Sinclair refused to find other work. His books were largely autobiographical, with fictional characters whose lives resembled many aspects of the author's life.

Around this time, Sinclair became interested in socialism (an economic, political, and social theory in which the public owns all property and resources and controls the means of production as well as the distribution of goods). In socialism, there is no room for private ownership. The focus instead is on collective ownership and equality for all. Socialism is the direct opposite of capitalism, which is the economic system used in America. Capitalism is founded on the idea that individual ownership promotes healthy competition among businesses, which in turn gives consumers more choices.

The industrialization (the move from an agricultural economy to one based on industry and business) of America underscored both the negative and the positive aspects of capitalism. On the one hand, individuals had the opportunity to gain vast amounts of wealth through business. On the other hand, most individuals did not have the business sense or the means through which to become wealthy. Instead, the rich got richer by hiring the poor, who became so desperate for work that they accepted low-paying jobs in unsafe work conditions. They worked ten-hour shifts or more, for a few dollars a day, and barely got by. The capitalist society of the Gilded Age and the early Progressive Era required the lower classes to send their children to factories instead of schools, resulting in a system that worked only for those who were in control. (The Gilded Age was the period in history following the Civil War and Reconstruction [roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century], characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption. The Progressive Era was the period that followed the Gilded Age [approximately the first twenty years of the twentieth century]; it was marked by reform and the development of a national cultural identity.)

Socialism provided an alternative to capitalism, and it became a popular theory among laborers and others who struggled just to survive. It was a threat to those who thrived in capitalist America, however. Opponents of the theory painted it as nothing more than total control of government over citizens who would sacrifice all rights and opportunities. The upper and middle classes of American society as a whole came to fear socialism. But Sinclair was one of those who struggled, and he took up the socialist cause with a vengeance. He officially joined the Socialist Party in 1902. Socialism became the driving force for his writing, and his passion showed through in the novel that was to skyrocket him to fame.

Sinclair was a devoted reader of and writer for the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason. In 1904, his editors sent him to Chicago to investigate the lives and working conditions of the city's stockyard workers (employees in the enclosed yards where food animals are temporarily kept before being slaughtered). The writer spent seven weeks living among the poor and mostly immigrant workers (people who move from one country to another, permanently). As poor as Sinclair was, he did not have to do much to blend in with the overworked, underpaid employees. He worked alongside them, lived among them, and interviewed hundreds of them. At night, he would write about what he saw and heard. He had always understood the troubles of the working-class poor, but now he also had details on how the meatpacking industry worked. He returned to New York with a full report.

The Jungle

Appeal to Reason published Sinclair's report as a serial, one chapter in each issue of the newspaper beginning in 1905. Reaction to Sinclair's work was so strong and immediate that the author began searching for a book publisher. No publisher would touch the book, however. According to journalist Chris Bachelder's article "The Jungle at 100," a manuscript reader from Macmillan (a publishing company) rejected Sinclair's novel with the words, "Gloom and horror unrelieved. As to the possibilities of a large sale, I should think them not very good." Sinclair would find similar reactions in the rejections from five more publishing houses before his manuscript was accepted by Doubleday, Page & Company.

Editors at Doubleday believed the novel as it was published in serial format was too graphic (uncomfortably realistic), and they insisted that Sinclair cut out some of his descriptions. The edition of The Jungle published in February 1906 was not the version that the author had originally written, but public reaction reassured Sinclair that it was still a disturbing, thought-provoking work. The book sold fifty-five hundred copies in one day, and within months was translated into seventeen languages. The Jungle was an international best-seller. Among its admirers were President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9; see entry), Nobel Prize writer George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935; see box). Gilman, according to Bachelder, wrote Sinclair a letter telling him "that book of yours is unforgettable."

Socialism, no; reform, yes

Sinclair and Roosevelt struck up an extensive correspondence as a result of the novel and its impact on society, but it was clear that Roosevelt—and the public at large—missed the essential message Sinclair tried to communicate in The Jungle. At the end of the novel, the workers discover and embrace socialism, Sinclair's answer to society's problems. Readers, including Roosevelt, finished the book not with a desire for a socialist society but with a sense of horror regarding the filth and health hazards of the meat industry. But Sinclair continued to write the president, passing along suggestions and talking about socialism. As Bachelder wrote in his article, Roosevelt had to go over Sinclair's head, straight to Frank Doubleday. "Tell Sinclair to go home and let me run the country for a while."

Roosevelt defended individualism with the same stubbornness that Sinclair defended socialism, but the president did share the author's disdain for capitalist greed. Earlier in the phase of their correspondence, Roosevelt explained in detail why he would never agree with socialism, but he promised Sinclair that he would use his power as president to reform the meatpacking industry.

Roosevelt kept his promise. When Congress was reluctant to pass the Pure Food and Drug bill for fear of angering some of the politicians' wealthiest supporters (whose businesses were in the meatpacking industry), he encouraged Congress to pass the bill into law. On June 30, 1906, the first federal laws regulating the food and drug industries were put into effect. Testing would be required to ensure the safety of all food and drugs meant for human consumption. The Food and Drug Administration would be established to carry out the enforcement of the new laws. Furthermore, some drugs would require a doctor's prescription before purchase, and drugs that were habit-forming would carry a warning on the label.

Another piece of legislation related solely to the meatpacking industry was passed that same day. The Meat Inspection Act required that certified officials inspect all animals before slaughter to ensure their health. Any found with disease would not be fit for eating. Once the animals were slaughtered, they again were inspected because some disease was not evident until the animals were cut open. Finally, the new law required slaughterhouses and stockyards to maintain specific health standards, which would be enforced on a regular basis by officials from the Department of Agriculture.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Defender of Justice

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was one of the most influential writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In her hundreds of novels, essays, and short stories, she argued against the societal norm of the day that kept women in the home, taking care of husbands and families. Gilman believed this oppressed women (kept them from realizing their potential).

Gilman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of a librarian and author father. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896), author of the famous abolition (antislavery) novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, was her father's aunt. Gilman's father abandoned the family in 1866, and they lived in great poverty, moving from relative to relative.

Gilman studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1878 to 1880; she then began earning a living by designing greeting cards. She married another artist, Charles Walter Stetson (1858–1911), in 1884. The birth of daughter Katharine soon followed, and the new mother fell into a deep depression. In 1886, she began seeking treatment for her condition from Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914), who recommended that she live as domestic a life as possible. He advised her to never pick up a pen or a brush or a pencil again. As strange as the doctor's advice may sound, it reflected the common idea of the day that women were not physically or emotionally capable of handling a life beyond cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. Many highly respected minds of the day promoted the idea that it was dangerous to their health and well-being for women to pursue activities outside the household.

Gilman wrote about her experiences with Mitchell and what happened when she followed his advice in her most famous short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper." The main character of the story is a young mother who suffers from nervous depression, brought on by the birth of her daughter. The woman's husband is a doctor, who forces her to rest in the bedroom of their rented house, doing nothing. The patterns of the room's ugly yellow wall-paper begins to haunt the woman as she slowly goes insane.

Gilman divorced Stetson in 1894 and moved to California, where she began writing books that would one day be labeled feminist, though the author herself refused such a label. In 1898, she attacked the traditional divisions of social and gender roles in her most famous nonfiction work, Women and Economics. "There is no female mind," she wrote in her book. "The brain is not an organ of sex." She also argued that in order to achieve equality between men and women, women needed a way to make their own money.

Gilman married her cousin George in 1902; the union would be a happy one until his death in 1934. In 1909, Gilman founded a feminist magazine titled The Forerunner. The magazine's life lasted for seven years. Gilman and her husband moved to Connecticut in 1922. Ten years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the death of her husband, Gilman returned to California to spend time with her daughter. Rather than die a slow death by cancer, she chose to end her life by taking an overdose of chloroform (a substance used as an anesthetic during surgery). Gilman died on August 17, 1935, in California. Her work was largely ignored for more than twenty years, but enjoyed a significant revival with the birth of the feminist movement in the 1960s.

Despite the book's popularity and his assurance of a place in history, Sinclair was disappointed with the reaction to his novel. He wanted the world to recognize socialism as the answer to every workingman's prayers. He wanted the burdens of the common laborer to be acknowledged and then relieved. When it became clear that his dreams would go unrealized, he later wrote in the book he believed to be his most important, The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach." Yet no book had more social impact during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era than did The Jungle.

Never gives up

Sinclair used the proceeds from The Jungle to establish a socialist commune (a community where most property is shared and little is privately owned) called Helicon Home Colony in Englewood, New Jersey. Within a year, the commune burned to the ground, and Sinclair was once again penniless.

Driven by the success of his 1906 novel, Sinclair continued to write novels that exposed controversial issues and irregularities in various industries in America. The Metropolis, published in 1908, was a behind-the-scenes look at New York's elite society. He followed that with the 1917 publication of King Coal, which revolved around a coal-mining strike that took place in 1914. This novel was an argument for the establishment of labor unions. Oil!, published in 1927, is considered to be one of Sinclair's greatest novels. Its plot revolves around two friends, one a poor laborer, the other the son of a wealthy oil magnate. This fictitious account paints a detailed portrait of the lives of the two men as they go through life. Boston was published one year later. The real-life inspiration for the book was the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti case, in which two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco (1891–1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888–1927), were accused and eventually executed for the death of two men. Although both men had alibis (excuses), they were the only two people ever accused of the crime.

While active in the Socialist Party, Sinclair ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Socialist ticket in 1906. He left the party in 1917 to support Democratic president Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21), but returned to socialism when the president supported intervention in the Soviet Union.

Sinclair remarried in 1913. He and Mary Craig Kimbrough stayed together until her death in 1961. The couple moved to California in the 1930s. In 1934, he ran for governor on the Democratic ticket (figuring he had a better chance than if he ran as a Socialist). He surprised everyone by winning nearly nine hundred thousand votes, but no one was surprised when he did not win the election.

The 1940s found Sinclair writing a series of books featuring central character Lanny Budd. The series consisted of eleven historical novels. Together, they covered much of Western political history in the first half of the twentieth century. His 1942 novel in the series, titled Dragon's Teeth, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1943. The book covered Germany's descent into Nazism.

Sinclair and his wife moved to Arizona in 1953, where he continued to write, but not at his former hectic pace. He published his autobiography in 1962, in which he declared that his lifelong commitment to the ideals of socialism had not changed. After his second wife's death, the author remarried; his third wife, Elizabeth Willis, died in 1967. Sinclair spent his last year in a nursing home, where he died on November 25, 1968.

For More Information


Arthur, Anthony. Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair. New York: Random House, 2006.

Mattson, Kevin. Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century. New York: Wiley, 2006.

Sinclair, Upton. The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism. Pasadena, CA: Self-published, 1919. Multiple reprints.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, 1906. Multiple reprints.

Sinclair, Upton. Oil! New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1927. Multiple reprints.


Bachelder, Chris. "The Jungle at 100: Why the Reputation of Upton Sinclair's Good Book Has Gone Bad." Mother Jones (January-February 2006): pp. 71–74. Also available at


Blackwell, John. "1906: Rumble Over 'The Jungle."' The Capital Century: 1900–1999. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

"Charlotte Perkins Gilman." Pegasos. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

Nakao, Annie. "Upton Sinclair Made His Mark as a Muckraker; His Vision for California Now Takes the Spotlight." San Francisco Chronicle. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

"Upton Sinclair." Classic Reader. (accessed on September 4, 2006).

Sinclair, Upton

views updated May 21 2018

Upton Sinclair

Born: September 20, 1878
Baltimore, Maryland
Died: November 25, 1968
Bound Brook, New Jersey

American writer

Upton Sinclair, American novelist and political writer, was one of the most important muckrakers (writers who search out and reveal improper conduct in politics and business) of the 1900s. His novel The Jungle helped improve working conditions in the meat-packing industry.

Early life and education

Upton Beale Sinclair Jr. was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 20, 1878. He was the only child of Upton Beall Sinclair and Priscilla Harden. His father worked at different times selling liquor, hats, and men's clothes. He also struggled with poverty and a drinking problem. Young Upton was a shy, thoughtful boy who taught himself to read at age five. The family moved to New York City when Upton was ten, and at fourteen he entered New York City College. He graduated in 1897 and went to Columbia University to study law, but instead became more interested in politics and literature. He never earned a law degree. Through these years he supported himself by writing for adventure-story magazines. While attending Columbia he wrote eight thousand words a day. He also continued to read a great dealover one two-week Christmas break he read all of William Shakespeare's (15641616) works as well as all of John Milton's (16081674) poetry.

Becomes involved in politics

Sinclair moved to Quebec, Canada, in 1900. That same year he married Meta Fuller, with whom he had a son. His first novel, Springtime and Harvest (1901), was a modest success. Three more novels in the next four years failed to provide even a bare living. Sinclair became a member of the Socialist Party in 1902, and he was a Socialist candidate for Congress from New Jersey in 1906. (Socialists believe in a system in which there is no private property and all people own the means of production, such as factories and farms, as a group.)

Also in 1906 Sinclair's The Jungle, a novel exposing unfair labor practices and unsanitary conditions in the meat-packing factories of Chicago, Illinois, was a huge success. Sinclair had spent seven weeks observing the operations of a meat-packing plant before writing the book. The Jungle 's protest about the problems of laborers and the socialist solutions it proposed caused a public outcry. President Theodore Roosevelt (18581919) invited Sinclair to discuss packing-house conditions, and a congressional investigation led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Documents personal life

Sinclair divorced his first wife in 1913. The autobiographical (based on his own life) novel Love's Pilgrimage (1911) treats his marriage and the birth of his child with an honesty that shocked some reviewers. Sinclair married Mary Craig Kimbrough in 1913. Sylvia and Sylvia's Marriage, a massive two-part story, called for sexual enlightenment (freedom from ignorance and misinformation).

King Coal (1917), based on a coal strike of 1914 and 1915, returned to labor protest and socialistic comment. However, in 1917 Sinclair left the Socialist Party to support President Woodrow Wilson (18561924). He returned to the socialist camp when Wilson supported intervention in the Soviet Union. In California Sinclair ran on the Socialist ticket for Congress (1920), for the Senate (1922), and for governor (1926 and 1930).

Continues stirring things up

Sinclair continued his writings on political and reform issues. Oil! (1927) dealt with dishonesty in President Warren G. Harding's (18651923) administration. Boston (1928), a novel about the Sacco-Vanzetti case (in which two Italian men, believed by many to have been innocent, were convicted and executed for having committed a murder during a payroll robbery), brought to light much new material and demonstrated the constructive research that always lay beneath Sinclair's protest writings.

In 1933 Sinclair was persuaded to campaign seriously for governor of California. He called his program "End Poverty in California." His sensible presentation of Socialist ideas won him the Democratic nomination, but millions of dollars and a campaign based on lies and fear defeated him in the election.

World's End (1940) launched Sinclair's eleven-volume novel series that attempted to give an insider's view of the U.S. government between 1913 and 1949. One of the novels, Dragon's Teeth (1942), a study of the rise of Nazism (a German political movement of the 1930s whose followers scorned democracy and favored the destruction of all "inferior" non-Germans, especially Jewish people), won the Pulitzer Prize. Before his death on November 25, 1968, Sinclair had produced more than ninety books that earned at least $1 million, most of it contributed to socialist and reform causes.

For More Information

Harris, Leon A. Upton Sinclair, American Rebel. New York: Crowell, 1975.

Scott, Ivan. Upton Sinclair: The Forgotten Socialist. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1996.

Sinclair, Upton. Autobiography. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1962.

Sinclair, Upton. My Lifetime in Letters. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1960.

Sinclair, Upton Beall

views updated May 11 2018


Upton Beall Sinclair was a famous American writer and essayist whose book The Jungle, an exposé of Chicago's meatpacking industry, shocked the nation and led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

Sinclair was born September 20, 1878, to a prominent but financially troubled family in Baltimore, Maryland. Sinclair's father was a liquor salesman who was also an alcoholic. His mother, a teetotaler, came from a wealthy background. In 1888, the Sinclair family moved to New York. Sinclair's father sold hats but spent his earnings on alcohol. Sinclair, who became a teetotaler like his mother, moved between two different financial worlds—the relative life of poverty with his father and mother and the affluence he experienced when visiting his mother's well-to-do parents. He later stated that experiencing the two extremes helped make him a socialist.

Sinclair began to write "dime novels" (books of pulp fiction that sold for 10 cents) when he was a teenager. At age 14, he attended New York City College, financing his education by writing for newspapers and magazines. In 1897, Sinclair enrolled at Columbia University. He continued to write prodigiously, a habit that became lifelong. By the time he died, Sinclair had published close to one hundred books.

In 1901, Sinclair released his first book, Springtime and Harvest, later republished as King Midas. Around the same time, he became involved in the socialist movement. He was an avid reader of socialist classics and Appeal to Reason, a socialist-populist journal. Socialists maintain that inequalities in the distribution of wealth are best solved by either direct state ownership of key industries or through regulation of private business. In 1905, Sinclair joined with authors Jack London and Florence Kelley and labor attorney clarence darrow to establish the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.

During this period Sinclair also became interested in the works of such investigative journalists as Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, who publicly exposed corruption in U.S. government and industry. This type of investigative reporting came to be known as "muckraking," thanks in part to Sinclair. In 1904, the editor of Appeal to Reason commissioned him to write a novel about the immigrants who worked in the meat packing industry. After seven weeks of research, Sinclair produced his sixth book, The Jungle, a novel about a young Lithuanian immigrant who finds work in the stockyards of Chicago. Sinclair's frank portrayal of the unsanitary and miserable working conditions of those who labored in the meat packing industry, was serialized in 1905 where it began to create a furor.

"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
Upton Sinclair

Unable to find a publisher for his book, Sinclair, after six rejections, published the novel himself. He took out an ad in Appeal to Reason, and received 972 advance orders. When the publisher Doubleday heard the numbers, the company took on the book. The Jungle was published

in 1906 and immediately sold over 150,000 copies. Over the next few years the book was translated into 17 languages and became an international best-seller.

Horrified at the description of the filthy conditions in which the meat packers worked, and even more dismayed at the offal and other repellant ingredients that were part of the meats they were consuming, the American public demanded immediate and widespread reform. President theodore roosevelt met with Sinclair at the White House and launched an investigation into the practices of the meat packing industry. Although the beef industry and other producers of consumable products, including pharmaceutical companies, had vigorously fought federal regulation of their industries, Sinclair's revelations helped turn the tide.

Bowing to the swelling chorus of public indignation, Congress passed the pure food and drug act of 1906, which prohibited foreign and interstate commerce in adulterated or fraudulently labeled food and drugs. Under the new law, such products could be seized and destroyed and offenders faced fines and prison sentences. Congress also passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, which attempted to regulate the inspection of the slaughtering and processing of animals sold for human consumption.

Sinclair put his newfound wealth into a cooperative living experiment he established in Englewood, New Jersey. When a fire destroyed the commune in 1907, Sinclair was financially unable to rebuild it. He followed The Jungle with a number of other muckraking novels, including King Coal (1917), Oil! (1927), and Boston (1928). None, however, achieved the same popularity.

Sinclair eventually moved to California where he became actively involved in politics. He ran unsuccessfully for public office on the Socialist ticket and organized a socialist reform movement known as End Poverty in California (EPIC). In 1934, he ran for governor of California on the Democratic ticket, but was defeated by Republican incumbent Frank Merriam.

Sinclair returned to writing in the 1940s, producing his famous Lanny Budd series, which is composed of 11 novels that deal with American politics from about 1913 until 1953. The third book in the series, Dragon's Teeth (1942), recounts the rise of Nazism. It received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1943, the only major literary award given to Sinclair.

In the 1950s, Sinclair moved to Arizona with his second wife, Mary Craig Kimbrough, for health reasons. When Craig died in 1961, the two had been married almost 50 years. Sinclair remarried at the age of 83. He spent his later years writing and occasionally lecturing. In 1962, he released his autobiography. In 1967, a year before his death, Sinclair was invited to the White House by President lyndon johnson to witness the signing of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, which expanded the earlier meat inspection act of 1906. In 1968, the socialist crusader, who proved that one man can bring about reform, died in his sleep on November 25, 1968, in Bound Brook, New Jersey.

further readings

Ivan, Scott. 1996. Upton Sinclair: The Forgotten Socialist. Lanham, Md.: Univ. Press of America.

Mitchell, Greg. 1991. Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's E.P.I.C. Race for Governor of California. New York: Random House.

Sinclair, Upton

views updated May 23 2018


Upton Sinclair (September 20, 1878–November 25, 1968) was a novelist and socialist whose challenge to President Franklin Roosevelt's cautious approach to recovery helped propel a second phase of New Deal reform after 1934. Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the scion of a father who suffered from alcoholism and a mother who had descended from an affluent southern family. At age ten Sinclair, already exhibiting a keen intellect and a precocious interest in writing, moved with his family to New York. As the family struggled financially, the young Sinclair began to write dime novels and short fiction for various pulp magazines to finance his studies at City College in Manhattan, which he had entered at fourteen. Thus began a career as a prolific writer; by the time of his death Sinclair had published nearly a hundred books.

Following the first of three marriages in 1900, Sinclair began developing his interest in fiction grounded in or suggested by proletarian themes and social realism. In 1904 Sinclair was asked by the editor of the Appeal to Reason, the largest circulation socialist-populist newspaper in the country, to write a fictionalized series on the conditions facing immigrant workers in the packinghouses of Chicago. The result would become The Jungle (1906), undoubtedly the most significant and enduring product of Sinclair's body of work. President Theodore Roosevelt and a middle-class readership were thoroughly repulsed by the imagery of the contaminated meat that threatened to reach their tables. The result was the passage in 1906 of the federal Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

In 1915 Sinclair moved to Pasadena, California, to enjoy a more temperate climate and indulge his affinity for tennis. In 1926 he rejoined the Socialist Party that he had left during World War I, and he became its candidate for governor with a less than impressive result. The Great Depression struck California with virulence and Sinclair, seeing no viable relief or recovery plan, penned a series of general propositions in August 1933 that he termed a "Plan to End Poverty in California" (EPIC). EPIC proposed to start up idle factories to benefit unemployed workers and make available untilled land to farmers, and then distribute goods and services through a system of statewide cooperatives. The EPIC plan would also provide $50 a month to those in need over sixty years old and a similar payment to the blind, disabled, and widowed mothers with dependent children. A steeply graduated state income tax and higher inheritance and stock transfer taxes would finance the social insurance programs. The proposals quickly caught the imagination of many Californians, who formed hundreds of EPIC clubs. Realizing a propitious political opportunity, Sinclair switched to the Democratic Party and declared his candidacy for the governorship.

The 1934 gubernatorial campaign in California became one of the most revealing and memorable in American history. Pitting Sinclair against a colorless business conservative in incumbent Frank Merriam, the campaign produced all of the hallmarks of a modern electoral event. Opinion and voter polling, the use of professional media experts, negative and distorted advertisements, and the infusion of large sums of money were used to defeat the left wing insurgency led by Sinclair. The troika of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the Southern California Citrus Growers Association, and the Los Angeles Times organized the anti-Sinclair effort. The campaign culminated in an agreement by the Democratic establishment to swing the election to the Republican Merriam in exchange for bipartisan collaboration on a recovery program in the state. Although Sinclair continued to write, the EPIC campaign had clearly sapped his literary energies and for the remainder of the decade he involved himself largely in other interests, including the study of telepathy and an attempted collaboration with Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.

In 1940 Sinclair resumed writing with the publication of the first volume of his Lanny Budd historical novels, which totaled eleven volumes between 1940 and 1953. The third in the series, Dragon's Teeth (1942), based upon the rise of Nazism, won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Sinclair left Pasadena in 1953 and moved to Buckeye, Arizona, where he died on November 25, 1968.



Dell, Floyd. Upton Sinclair: A Study in Social Protest. 1970.

Diedrick, James. Upton Sinclair. 1998.

Harris, Leon A. Upton Sinclair, American Rebel. 1975.

Mitchell, Greg. The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics. 1992.

Sinclair, Upton. The Epic Plan for California. 1934.

Sinclair, Upton. I, Candidate for Governor: And How I GotLicked (1935), Reprint Edition, 1994.

Sinclair, Upton. Papers. Lilly Library, University of Indiana, Bloomington.

William J. Billingsley

Sinclair, Upton (Beall) (1878-1968)

views updated Jun 27 2018

Sinclair, Upton (Beall) (1878-1968)

Famous American novelist, fearless champion of many unpopular causes. He was born on September 20, 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland, and later studied at the City College of New York. He was a Socialist candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives (1906, 1920); for the Senate (1922); and for governorship of California (1926, 1930). In 1934, he was narrowly defeated as the Democratic candidate for governor of California.

He published over 80 books, some of which were translated into more than 50 languages. His most well-known books include The Jungle (1906), King Coal (1917), The Brass Check (1919), The Goose Step (1923), Oil (1927), Between Two Worlds (1941), Presidential Agent (1944), Presidential Mission (1947), and O Shepherd Speak (1947).

In his book Mental Radio: Does it Work, and How? (1930), he detailed his investigations into the phenomena of telepathy with his wife, Mary Craig Sinclair. The book, to which William McDougall wrote the introduction to the English edition and Albert Einstein to the German edition, presents a lively account of the abilities of Mary Sinclair as a sensitive, or psychic. She first became aware of her powers after the death of several intimate friends. They were further awakened by her contact with Jan, a Pole, who had studied yoga in India and performed some of the feats of the fakirs. He was, for some time, a guest in the Sinclair home.

Upton Sinclair himself was, for some time, irritated by his wife's gift. In the waking state and in her dreams she could follow her husband and describe his doings. Finally he decided to experiment. The usual method was to make half a dozen drawings of anything that came into his mind. These were folded. His wife, in a dark room, would take them one by one, place them on her abdomen and then write or draw her impression.

The curious thing was that sometimes the second drawing was registered on her mind before she finished with the first one. When, for instance, a necktie was drawn, she added puffs of smoke at the end of the tie. The next object was a burning match.

Sinclair concluded: "We have something more than telepathy, for no human mind knows what drawings she has taken from that envelope. No human mind but her own even knows that she is trying an experiment. Either there is some super-human mind or else there is something that comes from the drawings, some way of 'seeing' other than the way we know and use all the time."

Walter Franklin Prince made the Sinclair experiments the subject matter of the sixteenth bulletin of the Boston Society for Psychic Research, dealing also with a great deal of unpublished material and giving an account of a series of control tests with ten different persons. Upton Sinclair died November 25,1968.


Berger, Arthur S. and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Prince, Walter Franklin. The Sinclair Experiments Demonstrating Telepathy. Boston: Boston Society for Psychic Research, n.d.

Sinclair, Upton. The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair. N.p.,1962.

. Mental Radio: Does it Work, and How? Pasadena, Calif.: The Author, 1930.

Upton Beale Sinclair Jr

views updated May 17 2018

Upton Beale Sinclair Jr.

Upton Beale Sinclair, Jr. (1878-1968), American novelist and political writer, was one of the most influential muckraking writers of the 1900s. He continued to write and speak for reform for many years.

Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Md., on Sept. 20, 1878. His father, struggling against poverty and liquor, moved the family to New York City when Upton was 10. At 14 Upton entered the College of the City of New York. He graduated in 1897 and went to Columbia University to study law. Through these years he supported himself by writing for adventure-story magazines.

Sinclair moved to Quebec in 1900. His first novel, Springtime and Harvest (1901), was a modest success. Three more novels in the next 4 years failed to provide even a bare living. In 1906, however, The Jungle, exposing unfair labor practices and unsanitary conditions in the packing houses of Chicago, scored a huge success. The novel's protest about the lot of laborers and the socialist solutions it proposed did not have much immediate effect, but its exposé caused a public outcry. President Theodore Roosevelt invited Sinclair to discuss packing-house conditions, and a congressional investigation led to passage of the Pure Food and Drug Law.

Sinclair divorced his first wife in 1912. The autobiographical novel Love's Pilgrimage (1911) treats his marriage and the birth of his child with a frankness which shocked some reviewers. He married Mary Craig in 1913. Sylvia and Sylvia's Marriage, a massive two-part story, called for sexual enlightenment. King Coal (1917), based on a coal strike of 1914-1915, returned to labor protest and socialistic polemic. Oil! (1927) dealt with dishonesty in Warren G. Harding's administration. Boston (1928), a novel about the Sacco-Vanzetti case, unearthed much new material and demonstrated the constructive research that always lay beneath Sinclair's protest writings.

Sinclair became a member of the Socialist party in 1902 and was Socialist candidate for Congress from New Jersey in 1906. In 1917 he left the party to support President Woodrow Wilson. He returned to the Socialist camp when Wilson supported Allied intervention in the Soviet Union. In California he stood for Congress on the Socialist ticket (1920), for the Senate (1922), and for governor (1926 and 1930). In 1933, persuaded to campaign seriously for governor, he called his program "End Poverty in California." His cogent presentation of Socialist ideas won him the Democratic nomination, but millions of dollars and a campaign based on falsehood and fear defeated him in the election.

World's End (1940) launched Sinclair's 11-volume novel series attempting to give an insider's view of American government between 1913 and 1949. One of the novels, Dragon's Teeth (1942), a study of the rise of Nazism, won the Pulitzer Prize. Before his death on Nov. 25, 1968, Sinclair had produced more than 90 books which netted at least $1 million, most of it contributed to socialist and reform causes.

Further Reading

Sinclair's My Lifetime in Letters (1960) and The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962) are revealing, if not entirely reliable. Sinclair's work is discussed appreciatively in Alfred Kazin, On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature (1942). A brief essay and a rare reprint of the "End Poverty in California" program are in Arthur M. Weinberg, Passport to Utopia: Great Panaceas in American History (1968). □

Sinclair, Upton Beall

views updated May 14 2018

Sinclair, Upton Beall (1878–1968) US novelist and social reformer. In 1906 he published his first novel, The Jungle, an exposé of the Chicago meat-packing industry, which led to the reform of US food inspection laws. His other novels include The Money Changers (1908), King Coal (1917) and Dragon's Teeth (1942, part of an 11-volume roman-fleuve entitled World's End), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.