U.S. History 1302
Professor Craig Livingston
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, a group of journalists confronted Americans with the ills of their society. “Muckrakers,” as they were called by Theodore Roosevelt, published articles and books detailing social, political and economic issues in the hopes of educating the public and prompting reform. Five such muckrakers were especially influential during this time and have been credited with exposing the harsh truth and inciting reform in the areas they focused on.
Two factors, economic and intellectual, helped shape the successful achievement of these journalists. First, printed media underwent huge growth from the 1870’s to the early 1900’s. Daily newspapers increased from 574 to 2,600. Periodicals such as McClure’s Magazine and Ladies’ Home Journal were priced at 10 cents, therefore making them affordable to a greater percentage of the population. The Ladies’ Home Journal had circulation numbers of over 1,000,000. Second, Americans, especially the growing middle class, had an appetite for realism. They wanted to see America portrayed in a truer light, with objectivism and skepticism. The muckraker journalists were doing exactly that.
One such writer and socialist, Upton Sinclair, wrote about the filth and unsafe conditions occurring in meat packing plants. His 1906 book, The Jungle, was truly an eye-opener for the public and Congress alike. Not long after his book was published, the government passed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.
Another journalist taking on industry was Ida Tarbell. Through her investigative journalist work, she exposed the shady practices of J.D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company. Her articles were printed in 19 installments in McClure’s Magazine and eventually compiled into a book, The History of Standard Oil Company. She has been credited with being one of the reasons why the Justice Department eventually broke up Standard Oil.
Lincoln Steffens was an author who took on corruption at the local government level. He also wrote a series of articles in McClure’s that were later published into a book titled, The Shame of the Cities. He exposed bribery and shady deals in such cities as St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and New York City. His work exposing corruption on Wall Street helped to bring about the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.
Jacob Riis highlighted the deplorable conditions of slum, tenement housing in New York City. His book, How the Other Half Lives, was unique because he included a photograph of homeless children sleeping in a hallway. Not soon after, New York passed legislation, the “New” Tenement Housing Law.
Finally, George Kibbe Turner was especially influential with his work, bringing attention to a social cause of the time, prostitution and the white slave trade. He published articles in McClure’s Magazine such as, “The Daughters of the Poor . . . ,” and was successful in bringing to light the disintegration of families in the ethnic urban areas.
When Theodore Roosevelt coined the term, “Muckrakers,” he meant it in a negative way. However, these Muckrakers embraced that label and wore it as a badge of honor. Through their work, these Progressives were able to bring uncomfortable truths to light. They were instrumental in bringing about reform and helping to make America better for all of her inhabitants.