Biography: Upton Sinclair

Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968) was an American author who wrote nearly 100 books and other works across a number of genres. Sinclair's work was well-known and popular in the first half of the twentieth century, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1943.

Upton Sinclair

Black and white photo of Upton Sinclair, in a suit, looking straight into the camera.  Both his hands are formed as fists, as if he's sincerely trying to explain something Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. as depicted on the cover of Times Magazine in 1934.
Born Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr.

September 20, 1878

Baltimore, Maryland
Died November 25, 1968 (aged 90)

Bound Brook, New Jersey
Occupation Novelist, writer, journalist, political activist, politician
Nationality American
Spouse Meta Fuller (1902–11)

Mary Craig Kimbrough, (1913–61)

Mary Elizabeth Willis (1961–67)

In 1906, Sinclair acquired particular fame for his classic muckrakingnovel, The Jungle, which exposed conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Actand the Meat Inspection Act. In 1919, he published The Brass Check, a muckraking exposé of American journalism that publicized the issue of yellow journalism and the limitations of the “free press” in the United States. Four years after publication of The Brass Check, the first code of ethics for journalists was created.Time magazine called him "a man with every gift except humor and silence." He is remembered for writing the famous line: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Sinclair was an outspoken socialist and ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a nominee from the Socialist Party. He was also the Democratic Party candidate for Governor of California during the Great Depression, but was defeated in the 1934 elections.

The Jungle

His novel based on the meatpacking industry in Chicago, The Jungle, was first published in serial form in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, from February 25, 1905 to November 4, 1905. It was published as a book by Doubleday in 1906.

Sinclair had spent about six months investigating the Chicago meatpacking industry for Appeal to Reason, work which inspired his novel. He intended to "set forth the breaking of human hearts by a system which exploits the labor of men and women for profit." The novel featured Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who works in a meat factory in Chicago, his teenage wife Ona Lukoszaite, and their extended family. Sinclair portrays their mistreatment by Rudkus' employers and the wealthier elements of society. His descriptions of the unsanitary and inhumane conditions that workers suffered served to shock and galvanize readers. Jack London called Sinclair's book "the Uncle Tom's Cabin of wage slavery." Domestic and foreign purchases of American meat fell by half.

Sinclair wrote in Cosmopolitan Magazine in October 1906 about The Jungle: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."The novel brought public lobbying for Congressional legislation and government regulation of the industry, including passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. At the time, President Theodore Roosevelt characterized Sinclair as a "crackpot", writing to William Allen White, "I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth." After reading The Jungle,Roosevelt agreed with some of Sinclair's conclusions but was opposed to legislation that he considered "socialist." He said, "Radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist."

View Upton Sinclair's full biography on Wikipedia.

Licenses and Attributions

More Study Resources for You

Show More