Happy 139th Birthday Upton Sinclair

Today marks the 139th birthday of Upton Sinclair, who gained fame for his “muckraking” work The Jungle. Born in 1878, Sinclair wrote during the Progressive Era, successfully revealing the horrific conditions of various American industries. He went on to write many more notable books including Dragon’s Teeth, for which he won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Upton Sinclair early in his career. Image from Library of Congress (LC-B2- 132-11 [P&P])
Sinclair grew up in New York City in extreme poverty with his mother and alcoholic father. He would sometimes visit his wealthy grandparents, which gave him an idea of what it was like to live in both poverty and wealth. This comparison of lifestyles, he claimed, was what created his socialist ideals. Sinclair only went further into poverty once he married and had a child. However, instead of factory work, he chose to pursue his passion for writing.

In 1906, Sinclair’s career was launched with the publishing of The Jungle. The book revealed the terrible conditions of the meat-packing industry and how the laborers were treated. It ultimately led to the passing of certain acts like the “Meat Inspection Act” that helped regulate the food industries.

Special Collections owns a first edition of The Jungle. Notice the note on the inside cover page stating “Sustainers’ Edition. An appeal was published in the Socialist press for advance orders to make possible the publication of this book. About five thousand copies were ordered, of which this is one.”

 

One of Sinclair’s following works, Oil!, depicts the destructive nature of the oil rig. Although it did not have the same effect as The Jungle, it still did bring some attention to the impacts of the oil industry. In fact, it inspired Paul Anderson’s movie There Will Be Blood which also exemplified the dangers of oil.

Linderman Library houses an early edition of Oil!.

Later in his life, Upton Sinclair wrote the book Little Steel to bring focus to the disorganization of the steel industry. It continues Sinclair’s theme of showing the rejection of the workers and the terrible conditions of the factories. 

Special Collections owns an early edition of Little Steel.

Because of his works, Sinclair was labeled a “muckraker,” a term used to describe people who sought to expose the truth about corruption in politics and business.  These authors and journalists were crucial in the implementation of government regulation and labor unions. Upton Sinclair is partly responsible for many of the basic safety regulations we have today.

 

References:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Upton-Sinclair

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/books/review/Essay-t.html?mcubz=3

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/upton-sinclair/little-steel/

 

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