“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1868, Upton Sinclair began writing as a teenager, selling his first story at sixteen. A few years later, he started his journalism and book writing career after graduating from City College of New York.
While Upton would write throughout his life, publishing over 90 books, including novels, essays, and political works, his book “The Jungle” was arguably his most influential. The novel, published in 1906, follows the life of a Lithuanian immigrant who comes to America with his family in search of a better life. In America, the immigrant family struggles to make ends meet. They are poor, living in squalor. And at work, they experience dangerous working conditions and exploitation by their employers. The constant struggle for survival takes a toll on their physical and mental health.
The story is a work of fiction, but it is also personal for Upton. “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 stockyard 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 only had to recall the previous winter in the cabin, when we had only cotton blankets, and had rags on top of us. It was the same with hunger, with illness, with fear. Our little boy was down with pneumonia that winter, and nearly died, and the grief of that went into the book.”
The book was a sensation. It exposed the meatpacking industry’s terrible working conditions and unsanitary practices in the early 20th century. But more than a public best-seller, “The Jungle” helped lead to policy changes. The outraged public pushed legislators to pass the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, establishing federal regulations for the food and drug industries. The book also helped to raise awareness about the need for workers’ rights and workplace safety regulations.
About the book, Upton would write, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” He continued campaigning for social and economic justice throughout his life, until passing away at the age of 90 in 1968.
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Bain News Service, Publisher. Upton Sinclair. [No Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2014686178/> / “I, Candidate for Governor And How I Got Licked” by Upton Sinclair. Published in 1935 and reprinted in 1994 by University of California Press – Google Books.