Meat packing industry
CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS FOUNDATION
Bill of Rights in Action
FALL 2008 (Volume 24, No. 1)
Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle to expose the appalling working conditions in the meat-packing industry. His description of diseased, rotten, and contaminated meat shocked the public and led to new federal food safety laws.
Before the turn of the 20th century, a major reform movement had emerged in the United States. Known as progressives, the reformers were reacting to problems caused by the rapid growth of factories and cities. Progressives at first concentrated on improving the lives of those living in slums and in getting rid of corruption in government.
By the beginning of the new century, progressives had started to attack huge corporations like Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, and the Armour meat-packing company for their unjust practices. The progressives revealed how these companies eliminated competition, set high prices, and treated workers as "wage slaves."
The progressives differed, however, on how best to control these big businesses. Some progressives wanted to break up the large corporations with anti-monopoly laws. Others thought state or federal government regulation would be more effective. A growing minority argued in favor of socialism, the public ownership of industries. The owners of the large industries dismissed all these proposals: They demanded that they be left alone to run their businesses as they saw fit.
Theodore Roosevelt was the president when the progressive reformers were gathering strength. Assuming the presidency in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley, he remained in the White House until 1909. Roosevelt favored large-scale enterprises. "The corporation is here to stay, " he declared. But he favored government regulation of them "with due regard of the public as a whole."
Roosevelt did not always approve of the progressive-minded journalists and other writers who exposed what they saw as corporate injustices. When David Phillips, a progressive journalist, wrote a series of articles that attacked U.S. senators of both political parties for serving the interests of big business rather than the people, President Roosevelt thought Phillips had gone too far. He referred to him as a man with a "muck-rake."
Even so, Roosevelt had to admit, "There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake." The term "muckraker" caught on. It referred to investigative writers who uncovered the dark side of society.
Few places had more "filth on the floor" than the meat- packing houses of Chicago. Upton Sinclair, a largely unknown fiction writer, became an "accidental muckraker" when he wrote a novel about the meat-packing industry.
By the early 1900s, four major meat-packing corporations had bought out the many small slaughterhouse companies throughout the United States. Because they were so...
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