The Impact of Upton Sinclair’s Book "The Jungle" Hannah DiNardo

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The Impact of Upton Sinclair’s Book “The Jungle”

Hannah DiNardo

History 153- Contemporary US History

20 May 2015

Hannah DiNardo

Professor Lark

History 153- Contemporary US History

20 May 2015

The Impact of Upton Sinclair’s Book “The Jungle”

Upton Sinclair, a Progressive at the time, focused on attacking the meatpacking industry, like many other Progressives who were also attacking large industries. The common term “muckraker” inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s quote during a speech, refers to a journalist who is focused on reform and uncovering any type of corruption in the world1. Sinclair is known as a “muckraker” throughout history with his powerful book; however, this was not his original intention as a writer. Sinclair’s fictional book, The Jungle, exposes the harsh and brutal lifestyle of immigrants and the extremely unsanitary conditions of the stockyards the immigrants were working in everyday. The results and reactions from the public were astonishing and the book quickly became an international best seller. The public was horrified at these accounts and expected Congress to do something about the unsanitary conditions and unfair labor actions that were described. Theodore Roosevelt, who was the President at the time, did his own research on this business and then two specific laws were passed that better regulated this industry for the safety and health of the public (Hevrdejs). Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, had an enormous impact on the country improving the safety of all citizens and this powerful story continues to still influence the world today.

Upton Sinclair was born in 1878 in Baltimore to a family of little money. He moved to New York City in 1888 and attended Columbia University, where he sold his stories to magazines to pay for his tuition. He converted to socialism in 1903 and started to write for the socialist magazine, Appeal to Reason. The editor of the magazine urged Sinclair to write a novel about the meatpacker union’s strike in Chicago2. Shortly after, Sinclair went to Chicago in 1904 for seven weeks to research and observe this industry, while conducting interviews with all of the people involved (Cherny).

The Jungle focuses on the main character, Jurgis Rudkus, who emigrated from Lithuania to Chicago with several family members and friends in hope of a better life. The book describes several horrific details about the working conditions of these immigrants. Jurgis is hired to work at “Durham”, based on one of the top companies in Chicago, Armour & Co., as a “shoveler of guts”. Not knowing anything, Jurgis is excited to have a job, but quickly finds out that this is not what he expected (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry”).

Jurgis learns that the company speeds up assembly lines to get more work out of the workers for the same pay and how the pay is not always representative of how many hours they have worked. Also, the workplace is described to be full of disease and little sanitation: workers infected with tuberculosis spitting up blood on the floor, workers carrying 100 pounds of meat on their sore backs, and workers are forced to used toilets with no soap and water right next to the meat processing area. Oftentimes, the workers did not have the space to eat lunch and would have to eat while working. Also, rotten parts of the meat were processed, mixed with chemicals, and relabeled to sell to the public. Several other descriptive and disgusting examples of how the meat packing industry was corrupted were provided (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry”).

In February 1905, the Appeal to Reason magazine started publishing Sinclair’s findings one chapter per week. Later, in 1906 the book was published in seventeen languages and became an international best seller. After the public reacted with such outrage and shock, the meat industry was impacted with lower sales. The public’s serious reaction reached the White House and citizens demanded that something be done to better this industry and everyone affected (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry”).

Soon after, President Roosevelt began his own investigation of Chicago’s slaughterhouses. Shockingly, Sinclair’s accounts were correct and the preparation of food products was confirmed to be unsanitary and threatening to the public’s health (“Global Muckraking: the International Impact of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). Then, the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 was passed and this allowed workers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop any rotten or mislabeled meat to be sold for consumption. On the same day as this law was passed, Roosevelt also signed the Pure Food and Drug Act. This specific act outlawed selling food that was mislabeled and food additives. After both of these laws were passed, the federal Food and Drug Administration was formed, which is an administration that regulates these industry and makes sure they are following these laws (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry”).

After these laws were passed the general public seemed more confident in the meat industry again. Now this industry had to obey by these laws or they could go out of business. The sanitation levels and safety of workers benefitted greatly and these aspects had to stay at a safe level or consequences would occur. The meat that was being sold to consumers was now clean and the products were not mislabeled, making the public very happy.

Although Roosevelt is the one accredited with passing the laws for better sanitation, Sinclair actually brought this serious topic to light allowing for the regulation from higher up officials to be passed (Cherny). If Sinclair had not been courageous enough to expose this industry, regardless of the fact that he received threats for making these accusations, the industry may not have been reformed to higher standards. In essence, his courageousness and strong moral belief in doing the right thing for his fellow American’s bettered this industry for the future he could only imagine. Over the many years, the guidelines and regulations have gotten stricter and stricter from his courageous acts of exposing this corrupt industry and today consumers and meat industry employee’s benefit from his act.

Finally, reform and change is never easy; however, because of some courageous individuals Americans have benefitted from some of the most important changes and reform in America. Upton Sinclair exposed the corrupt meat packing industry and this act resulted in the biggest change in that industry. Today, this industry still is safe for the consumer and employees because of him. Sinclair’s ability to stand up for what he knew was right regardless of the consequences he would face is what has made him an example of one of our country’s greatest progressives. Most impressive is his ability to see into the future and believe that his input was necessary to make a safer and healthier America continued future generations.


1. Roosevelt once said, “There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake.” This is where the term muckraker came from (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry”).

2. The magazine offered Sinclair $500 at the time, which was equivalent to about $11,500 in 2008 to expose this industry.

Works Cited & Annotated Bibliography

Cherny, R. “The Jungle and the Progressive Era.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. n.d. Web. 20 May 2015.

The next article explains Sinclair’s early intentions of writing this compelling book and what his life consisted of while writing “The Jungle”. There is a detailed summary of the book, along with excerpts that give readers a feel for what the book entails. Finally, what happened as a result of this book being published in Congress is explained and how the public reacted and what they expected to be done by the president at the time, Roosevelt.

“Global Muckraking: the International Impact of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.” U.S. History in Context. 2009. Web. 20 May 2015.

This article examines in detail the process of Sinclair’s research, book publishing, and then Roosevelt’s research of his own leading to the new regulations. There are several excerpts and quotations that allow the readers of this article understand the topic better. Also, this source looks at the impact on other international countries and how they regulated their industries and changed after conditions of the Chicago stockyards were exposed.

Hevrdejs, J. “’The Jungle’ Revealed Suffering.” Tribune Newspapers. Chicago Tribune. 03 Feb 2012. Web. 20 May 2015.

This article is a summary of Upton Sinclair’s book, “The Jungle”, which was published in 1906. Sinclair’s powerful book allowed readers inside the awful living and working conditions of immigrants at the time. This fictional book provided the public with detailed imagery and realistic experiences that was extremely shocking. Finally, this article argues why everyone should read this book and what reactions are expected.

“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry.” Constitutional Rights Foundation: Bill of Rights in Action 24.1 (2008). Web.

This thorough article explains the role of Progressives at this time and what their intention for the country was. The meatpacking industry in the United States is explained and readers are informed that the largest one was in Chicago, where Sinclair travelled to gain inspiration for the book. The brutal working conditions of workers in this specific industry are described. Also, there is background information on Upton Sinclair and what he wrote about in “The Jungle”. Finally, the public’s reaction is related to the new federal food laws that were issued during this time.

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