Famous Muckrakers in the 20th Century



Uptown Sinclair is most known for his novel, The Jungle, and his investigation into the meat packing industry. Some refer to him as the “King of Muckrakers.” This was because he went undercover for 7 weeks in the Chicago meat packing industry and ultimately changed society’s perspective on the dangers and health risks of the food industry. Initially, Sinclair wanted to focus on researching the struggles of the lower and immigrant class and the obstacles they had to endure while working in the meat packing industry. Instead, he exposed the health risks in the industry. Gruesome details were revealed in his book. For example, Sinclair documented when rats were put into sausage grinding machines, or when the inspectors ignored the risk of slaughtering diseased cows for beef.  Sinclair’s findings played a great role in the creation of Food and Drug Administration after President Theodore Roosevelt read his novel.  The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906 was ultimately enacted because of his investigation and muckraking efforts to expose the dangers of the industry. He stated, "“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit the stomach."




Lincoln Steffens was one of the original muckrakers who wanted to go beyond simple news reporting because he wanted to investigate why systems were corrupt. He was known to explore all areas of society, being close to journalists, presidents, Communists, artists and more. He stated and believed that "power is what men seek and any group that gets it will abuse it." It was extremely important to Steffens to go beyond only endorsing a political party and to have a strong voice in the American Democracy that will make a difference. Therefore, he took the great effort to expose corporate monopolies and political corruption, working under Sam McClure’s magazine among other muckrakers. He is most famous for his investigation on the  political and municipal corruption in Minneapolis. Steffens visited many cities to understand the political system, aiming to reveal how the immigrants were treated by the government. He also pursued an investigation of Wall Street, which eventually led to the creation of the Federal Reserve. Steffens really made the American public question the integrity and form a cynicism around the municipal government.




Ida Tarbell worked with many other famous muckrakers under Samuel McClure to expose business and political scandal. Before that, she wrote about the City of Light for popular magazines. Her magazine series that was endorsed by McClure, the monopoly of the oil industries and John D. Rockefeller’s illegal and boil actions to climb to the top.  She was determined to show his unfair actions. Her three part book was named “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” exposed and was an instant hit in society. She aimed to reveal Rockefeller’s unethical decisions and to cautiously acknowledge his wit and smarts Eventually, her work affected the Supreme Court’s decision to break up the Standard Oil trust. Tarbell’s investigative journalism was greatly revered and hailed as a true muckraking piece, ultimately changing the fate of an empire with her words. However, she refuses to accept the label of a muckraker, stating, ""I was convinced that in the long run the public they were trying to stir would weary of vituperation, that if you were to secure permanent results the mind must be convinced." After, she became a very influential figure among movement. She was greatly involved in women’s rights and contributions. Some of Tarbell's excerpts in her book can be found here.




Ida B. Well’s ultimate goal was to fight for her race and expose the events of lynching. When three of her friends were lynched because a group of white men wanted to extinguish their competition in the grocery store business, Wells was inspired to expose these horrific acts. She wrote about the motives of the white mob and advice on how her race could protect themselves. She wrote that "The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival," therefore advising Black people on how to protect themselves from this horror. Her newspaper, Free Speech and Headlight, was eventually shut down because of the investigative journalism that she was involved in. However, she still continued to write about the preposterous reasons why black men were getting lynched. She eventually joined the NAACP and became a leader among her race. She was also one of the first Black women to run for office in America.