I. Progressive Roots
In the beginning of the 1900s, America had 76 million people,mostly in good condition.
Then before the first decade of the 20thcentury, the U.S. would be influenced by a
“Progressivemovement’ that fought against monopolies, corruption,inefficiency, and
The purpose of the Progressives was to use the government as an agency of
The Progressives had their roots in the Greenback Labor Party of the 1870s and 1880s
and the Populist Party of the 1890s.
In 1894, Henry Demarest Lloyd exposed the corruption of themonopoly of the Standard
Oil Company with his book Wealth AgainstCommonwealth, while Thorstein Veblen
criticized the new rich (those whomade money from the trusts) in The Theory of the
Leisure Class (1899).
Other exposers of the corruption of trusts, or“muckrakers,” as Theodore Roosevelt called
them, were JacobA. Riis, writer of How the Other Half Lives, a book about the New York
slums and its inhabitants, and novelist Theodore Dreiser, who wrote TheFinancier and
The Titan to attack profiteers.
Socialists and feminists gained strength, and with people like JaneAddams and Lillian
Wald, women entered the Progressive fight.
II. Raking Muck with the Muckrakers
Beginning about 1902, a group of aggressive ten and fifteen-cent popular magazines,
such as Cosmopolitan, Collier’s, and Everybody’s, began flinging the dirt about the
Despite criticism, reformer-writers ranged far and wide to lay bare the muck on the back
of American society.
In 1902, Lincoln Steffens launched a series of articles in McClure’sentitled
“The Shame of the Cities,” in which he unmaskedthe corrupt alliance between big
business and the government.
Ida M. Tarbell launched a devastating exposé against Standard Oil and its
These writers exposed the “money trusts,” the railroadbarons, and the corrupt
amassing of American fortunes, this last partdone by Thomas W. Lawson.
David G. Phillips charged that 75 of the 90 U.S. Senators did not represent
the people, but actually the railroads and trusts.