Muckrakers Progressive Era Essay Thesis

America at the turn of the century was a best a rough place. Technology and industry grew at such a great rate that the government and most citizens were unprepared to deal with its effects. Philosophies like Laissez Fair and social Darwinism combined to create an America that cared little for theevery day man. Eventually citizens, average people like you and me, arose to complain about these conditions and demand change. The demand for change, or progress, was known as the Progressive Era.

I. The Progressives

A. Muckrakers (Term coined by TR was a negative one. Based on a literary character who was so busy cleaning and raking up the muck and dirt that he didn't see the good things that were above his head.)

1. Lincoln Stephens, "The Shame of the Cities" Link between big business and crooked politicians

2. Ida Tarbell, "History of the Standard Oil Company" published in McClure's Magazine. Described the firms cutthroat methods of eliminating competition.

3. Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle" Detailed the lives stockyard workers and the meat packing industry.

4. Jacob Riis, "How The Other Half Lives" A book of photographs about the wretched conditions in the cities and slums.

B. Religious Groups

1. Preaching of the "social gospel."

2. Create acts of god, churches should work to improve conditions for workers and the poor.

3. Religious organizations like the YMCA, YWCA, concentrated efforts on helping newcomers adjust to life in the big cities. Investigates slum conditions, provided food and clothing and set up settlement houses.

C. Radical Groups

1. Socialist Party

a. Organized in 1901 by labor leaders including Eugene V. Debs.

b. Wanted govt. takeover of big business, laws regulating business as well as a minimum wage and laws setting the length of the work week to 40 hours.


  • Length: 393 words (1.1 double-spaced pages)
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Muckrakers were early twentieth-century reformers whose      1

mission was to look for and uncover political and business corruption.

The term muckraker, which referred to the "man with a muckrake"

in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, was first used in a pejorative

sense by Theodore Roosevelt, whose opinion of the muckrakers was

that they were biased and overreacting. The movement began about

1902 and died down by 1917. Despite its brief duration, however, it

had a significant impact on the political, commercial, and even literary

climate of the period.                               2

Many popular magazines featured articles whose purpose was      3

to expose corruption. Some of these muckraking periodicals included

The Arena, Everybody's, The Independent, and McClure's. Lincoln

Steffens, managing editor of McClure's (and later associate editor of

American Magazine and Everybody's), was an important leader of

the muckraking movement. Some of his exposés were collected in his

1904 book The Shame of the Cities and in two other volumes, and

his 1931 autobiography also discusses the corruption he uncovered

and the development of the muckraking movement. Ida Tarbell,

another noted muckraker, wrote a number of articles for McClure's,

some of which were gathered in her 1904 book The History of the

Standard Oil Company.

Muckraking appeared in fiction as well. David Graham Phillips,     4

who began his career as a newspaperman, went on to write

muckraking magazine articles and eventually novels about

contemporary economic, political, and social problems such as

insurance scandals, state and municipal corruption, shady Wall Street

dealings, slum life, and women's emancipation.     

Perhaps the best-known muckraking novel was Upton Sinclair's      5

The Jungle, the 1906 exposé of the Chicago meatpacking industry.

The novel focuses on an immigrant family and sympathetically and

realistically describes their struggles with loan sharks and others who

take advantage of their innocence. More importantly, Sinclair

graphically describes the brutal working conditions of those who find

work in the stockyards. Sinclair's description of the main character's

How to Cite this Page

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work in the fertilizer plant is particularly gruesome; at the novel's end,

this man turns to socialism.

With the muckrakers featured prominently in fiction, magazines,     6

and newspapers--especially the New York World and the Kansas City

Star--some results were forthcoming. Perhaps the most far-reaching

was the pure-food legislation of 1906, supposedly a direct result of

Roosevelt's reading of The Jungle. In any case, the muckrakers helped

to nourish the growing tradition of social reform in America.

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