Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle

1905

United States

Labor & Economy Media & Culture

In 1905, journalist Upton Sinclair’s fictional work, The Jungle. exposed the exploitative working and living conditions in Chicago’s meat packing plants for the mostly Polish, Slovakian, and Lithuania immigrants. There, immigrants worked long hours in dark, poorly insulated rooms with dangerous assembly-line tasks, established in order to process meat as cheaply as possible.

Sinclair published his work independently after being rejected by six publishers. The book gained instant success, which led to Doubleday Publishing House publishing and selling over 150,000 copies. Readers flooded the White House with distressed letters over the conditions of meat packing plants. This public outcry led to President Theodore Roosevelt appointing a commission to investigate the Chicago meat packing plants. The commission issued a report that confirmed the horrors that The Jungle described, leading to the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, and spurring the creation of the Food & Drug Administration.

Sinclair was disappointed, however, that the public was more concerned with the conditions of the plants than the plight of the immigrant workers. For its socialist views, The Jungle was banned from public libraries in Yugoslavia in 1929, South Korea in 1985, and burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933. It was also banned in East Germany in 1956 for not supporting communism.