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Who Were the Muckrakers?

Muckrakers and Their Works


Muckrakers were investigative reporters and writers during the progressive era who wrote about corruption and injustices in order to make changes in society. The term was actually coined by the progressive president Theodore Roosevelt in his 1906 speech "The Man With the Muck Rake" referring to a passage in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Even though Roosevelt was known for helping usher in numerous reforms, he saw the most zealous members of the muckraking press as going to far, especially when writing about political corruption. As he said in his speech, "Now, it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck rake; and there are times and places where this service is the most needed of all the services that can be performed. But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muck rake, speedily becomes, not a help but one of the most potent forces for evil."

Following are some of the most famous muckrakers of their day with the major works that helped exposed issues and corruption in America between 1902 and the start of World War I.

1. Upton Sinclair - The Jungle

Upton Sinclair, Author of The Jungle and Muckraker
Public Domain/ Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) published his groundbreaking book The Jungle in 1904. This book gave a wholly unsavory look at the meatpacking industry in Chicago, Illinois. His book became an instant bestseller and led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

2. Ida Tarbell - The History of the Standard Oil Company

Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) published The History of the Standard Oil Company in 1904 after having written it in serial form for McClure's Magazine. She had spent a number of years investigating the business practices of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil and written this exposé of the information she found. Her investigative reporting caused a furor that helped lead to the breakup of Standard Oil in 1911.

3. Jacob Riis - How the Other Half Lives

Jacob Riis (1849-1914) published How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York in 1890. This book combined text with photos to produce a truly disturbing picture of the living conditions of the poor in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His book led to tenements being torn down and improvements being made to the area including the building of sewers and the implementation of garbage collection.

4. Lincoln Steffens - The Shame of the Cities

Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936) published The Shame of the Cities in 1904. This book sought to show the corruption in local governments throughout America. It was basically a compilation of magazine articles published in McClure's Magazine in 1902 about the corruption in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York.

5. Ray Stannard Baker - The Right to Work

Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946) wrote "The Right to Work" in 1903 for McClure's Magazine. This article detailed the plight of coal miners including scabs (non-striking workers) who were often untrained yet had to work in the dangerous conditions of the mines while fending off attacks from union workers.

6. John Spargo - The Bitter Cry of Children

John Spargo (1876-1966) wrote The Bitter Cry of Children in 1906. This book detailed the terrible conditions of child labor in America. While many were fighting against child labor in America, Spargo's book was the most widely read and most influential as it detailed the dangerous working condition of boys in coal mines.

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