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The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, 1906

Commissioned by a socialist newspaper to investigate working conditions in Chicago’s meatpacking industry, journalist Upton Sinclair spent seven weeks among immigrant workers in packing plants. His exposé was a fictionalized account of a Lithuanian family whose American dream was crushed by capitalism. First serialized, then published as The Jungle in 1906, it became an international bestseller.

Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Libraries

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, 1906

Upton Sinclair: Cleaning Up the Meat Industry

Upton Sinclair intended his novel The Jungle to be an exposé of industrial labor, but the book had the unexpected result of moving Congress for the first time to regulate food production. In researching his story of immigrant workers in Chicago’s meatpacking plants, Sinclair witnessed and described the dangerous, unsanitary practices of slaughterhouses and meatpackers. His revelations created an uproar, prompting Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, to introduce legislation that Congress approved as the Meat Inspection Act of 1906.

I wished to frighten the country by a picture of what its industrial masters were doing to their victims; entirely by chance I had stumbled on another discovery—what they were doing to the meat-supply of the civilized world. In other words, I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.

Upton Sinclair, “What Life Means to Me,” Cosmopolitan magazine, October 1906