Upton Sinclair’s progressive writing advocated for many people often overlooked by society. Sinclair’s work typically started movements to improve the “common man’s” life and living conditions (Eastman 479). He grew up without excessive means in New York City and would grow to dedicate his working career to helping other people in his class, particularly those who were neglected by society or without strong voices. Throughout his writing career he would write many articles and books based upon his personal experiences and the personal experiences of others that he collected (Eastman 479). He was even deemed at one point, “an accidental muckraker” (Constitutional Rights Foundation).
Growing up in New York City, he was educated by the city’s public school system and then Columbia University. Some of his earliest work was about the public school system and how it needed to be reformed. He wrote many articles on the subject, including explaining how the teaching of foreign language needed to be modified in both secondary and collegiate education (Eastman 479).
One of his most popular works, The Jungle, he traveled for and researched at the age of 26. In late 1904 the meatpacking union went on strike for better wages and working conditions. Sinclair traveled from New York to Chicago and interviewed workers, their families, lawyers, doctors, and social workers to create the context for his next great fiction. He went into these plants and witnessed first hand the working conditions these workers were subjected to.
Upton Sinclair then used his characters as witnesses to these atrocities and translated the issues into a narrative. This book became so sensational that President Theodore Roosevelt found the White House swarmed with letters of concern for these workers. After reading The Jungle, he called Sinclair to DC and after meeting with him started a special commission that investigated Chicago’s slaughterhouses (Constitutional Rights Foundation).
This was one of Sinclair’s first direct impacts on society. And through similar research in other industries, he would inspire similar progressive actions throughout his career.