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Famous Marylanders - Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Its Effects


"It's the meat that made her sick." [Poster for the 1914 film adaption of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.]At the turn of the Twentieth century, the United States was entering the era of progressivism.  Following the tumultuous Gilded Age where each level of government favored big business, many lower-class Americans demanded change at the workplace.  This included higher wages, the rights for workers to unionize without penalty, safer working conditions, amongst others.

On September 20, 1878, Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland into a poor, lower class family.  His family resided in Baltimore, until their move to New York City when he was ten.  After finishing Columbia University, Sinclair traveled along the Northeast.  He married Meta Fuller and settled down in Princeton, N.J.  After publishing many unsuccessful novels, he got caught in the growing socialist movement in America under Eugene V. Debs. Sinclair began to write books advocating change through investigative journalism; this practice was called muckraking.  Upon hearing about a job in Chicago to investigate the meat-packing industry, he moved there to examine the workers’ conditions.  He published his findings in The Jungle, a novel depicting an immigrant who worked in one of plants.

Although many people thought the aim of The Jungle was to target the unsanitary conditions of the meat-packing industry, Sinclair was more focused on revolutionizing America into a socialistic society.  He advocated for the end of “wage slavery” and a redistribution of wealth.

How would Socialism change that?" asked the girl-student, quickly. It was the first time she had spoken.

"So long as we have wage slavery," answered Schliemann, "it matters not in the least how debasing and repulsive a task may be, it is easy to find people to perform it. But just as soon as labor is set free, then the price of such work will begin to rise. So one by one the old, dingy, and unsanitary factories will come down—it will be cheaper to build new; and so the steamships will be provided with stoking machinery, and so the dangerous trades will be made safe, or substitutes will be found for their products. In exactly the same way, as the citizens of our Industrial Republic become refined, year by year the cost of slaughterhouse products will increase; until eventually those who want to eat meat will have to do their own killing—and how long do you think the custom would survive then?

Excerpt from The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Nonetheless, his book had a significant impact on society.  Instead of helping out the working class, the book made the public aware that the plants were filthy and dangerous, posing a threat to the public.  Therefore, this made it possible for the federal government to intervene and regulate the food industry with the passing of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.  Even though these acts were passed, change did not occur instantaneously.  As a result, each state and local government passed its own set of rules and health codes to supplement.  In Maryland, most health codes were not passed until 1910 when the legislature expanded the scope of power of the State Board of Health by creating the State Food and Drug Commissioner.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 7- The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

STANDARD 1: How Progressives and others addressed problems of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and political corruption.

Standard 1A: The student understands the origin of the Progressives and the coalitions they formed to deal with issues at the local and state level
: Explain how intellectuals and religious leaders laid the groundwork and publicists spread the word for Progressive plans to reform American society. 
9-12: Assess Progressive efforts to regulate big business, curb labor militancy, and protect the rights of workers and consumers.

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
    SOURCE:  Project Gutenberg (uncopyrighted text)

  2. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, [Upton Sinclair, half-length portrait, facing right]
    DATE CREATE/PUBLISHED: [between 1958 and 1968]
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    COPYRIGHT: Restricted: Information on reproduction rights available at Reference Counter. Copyright by Dave Iwerks, Northridge, California.
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

  3. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, panoramic picture illustrating the beef industry.
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    SOURCE: Panoramic Photographs
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

  4. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, [Men, primarily African American, working with cattle carcasses hanging in a slaughter house in the stockyards].
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: [between 1904 June-Sept.]
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SUMMARY FROM American Memory: Image of men, primarily African American, working with cattle carcasses hanging in a slaughter house in the stockyards. The stockyards were owned by the Union Stock Yard & Transit Company in the New City community area of Chicago, Illinois. This image was probably taken at the time of the 1904 Stockyards Strike.
    SOURCE:  Photographs from the Chicago Daily News, 1902-1933
    REPOSITORY: Chicago Historical Society, Chicago in conjunction with Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

  5. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Chicago - Meat Packing Industry - Swift & Co.'s Packing House: great soup kettles - capacity 350,000 lbs. each
    REPRODUCTIONS: Obtaining Copies
    COPYRIGHT: Rights and Restrictions
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

  6. DESCRIPTION: Photograph, Chicago - Meat Packing Industry - Swift's Packing House: automatic scraping machine (capacity 1000 hogs per hour)
    REPRODUCTIONS: Obtaining Copies
    COPYRIGHT: Rights and Restrictions
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

  7. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Upton Sinclair to President Theodore Roosevelt
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: March 10, 1906
    CONTENT & SCOPE NOTE from the National Archives: In this letter to President Roosevelt, Sinclair supported the presence of federal inspectors in the meat-packing houses. He advised that inspectors should come disguised as workingmen to discover the true conditions, as Sinclair did when he researched his book "The Jungle."
    SOURCE: Item from Record Group 16: Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, 1839 - 1981
    REPOSITORY: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park

  8. DESCRIPTION: Act of December 4, 1905 (Pure Food and Drug Act), Public Law 59-384, 34 STAT 768, which prevented the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adultered, misbranded, poisonous, or deleterious foods, drugs, medicines, and liquors and the regulation of traffic of such items., 12/04/1905
    SEE ALSO: Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 (The "Wiley Act") Public Law Number 59-384 34 STAT. 768 (1906) 21 U.S.C. Sec 1-15 (1934) (REPEALED IN 1938 BY 21 U.S.C. Sec 329 (a)
    SOURCE: Item from Record Group 11: General Records of the United States Government, 1778 - 1992
    REPOSITORY: National Archives

  9. DESCRIPTION: Federal Meat Inspection Act, Title 21 Food and Drugs, Chapter 12 Meat Inspection
    SOURCE: Food and Drug Administration

  10. DESCRIPTION: AN ACT for preventing the manufacture or sale of adulterated, misbranded, poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs, medicines, water, candies and liquors, and for regulating traffic therein within the State of Maryland, and to provide for the punishment of violations of its provisions
    SOURCE:  General Assembly January 5 - April 4, 1910 Session Laws in Archives of Maryland Online.
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  11. DESCRIPTION: The Annotated Code of the Public Civil Laws of Maryland, 1911, Article 43 —Alternation of Food or Drink
    SOURCE: The Annotated Code of the Public Civil Laws of Maryland in Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

Additional Media Resources

Photographs from the Chicago Daily News, 1902-1933 . From American Memory, Library of Congress

Modern Meat. From PBS Frontline

Additional Instructional Resources

Photographs from the Chicago Daily News, 1903-1933: The Jungle. From the Library of Congress Learning Page.

Progressive Era: Public Pressure and Government Actions. From PBS Frontline.

Upton Sinclair & the Muckrakers. From C-SPAN American Writers

The Power of Fiction. From The Discovery Channel.

Secondary Resources

Brown, Richard C. “The Muckrakers: Honest Craftsmen” The History Teacher, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Jan.1969): 51-56.

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

Hayes, Brian and PBS’s NewsHour Extra. “Featured Story: Sinclair's 'The Jungle' Turns 100.” Created 5/10/2006.

Herms, Dieter, ed. Upton Sinclair: Literature and Social Reform. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1990.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Harper Collins, 2001.

Swandos, Harvey, "The World of Upton Sinclair"Atlantic Monthly ( Dec. 1961): 96-102. Includes a discussion of The Jungle as an historical document.

Young, Harvey James. “A Move For Protection” Science, New Series, Vol. 248, No. 4957 (May 18, 1990): 896-897.

Walker, Francis. "The 'Beef Trust' and the United States Government." Economic Journal, Vol. 16, No. 64 (Dec., 1906): 491-514.

Copyright and Other Restrictions

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This document packet was researched and developed by Benjamin Elgamil.

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