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Social Darwinism In The Gilded Age Essay

Corporations began to form during the Gilded Age, a time in U. S. history that followed the Civil War. During the Gilded Age Social Darwinism guided political decision making. Social Darwinists opposed safety regulations, labeling them government handouts, which they thought “coddled the weak” (“New Attitudes”). The time period that followed the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, foiled the beliefs of the previous epoch. During the Progressive Era urban intellectuals rejected the Social Darwinist beliefs of the previous age, believing them “morally and intellectually wrong” (“Progressivism”).

Many reforms were passed in order to fix the past. All aspects of society were effected by these new beliefs and reforms. Some people sought to change society by publishing photographs or articles exposing the corruption of various aspects of society (“Muckrakers”). These people were called muckrakers. Upton Sinclair, a largely unknown fiction writer, became an “accidental muckraker’ when he published his novel, The Jungle, which revealed the corruption of the meat packing industry. Intended as an article examining a strike, The Jungle caused the passage of both the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Upton Sinclair formally converted to Socialist ideology while attending Columbia University. Seven years after graduating, he began work on The Jungle. The leading Socialist weekly in the U. S. , the Appeal to Reason, had offered him $500 dollars to write about a recent Mendes 2 strike in Chicago’s meat packing industry, known as Packingtown (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). Upon his arrival in Chicago, Sinclair announced, “I am Upton Sinclair, and I have come to write the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the labor movement. ” (Cherny).

He spent seven weeks gathering information about Packingtown. He would sneak into packing plants by disguising himself as a worker to gain firsthand knowledge of the inner-workings of the industry (Cherny). He interviewed the workers as well as their families, doctors, lawyers, and social workers. He would even receive help from local socialists who were knowledgeable about the industry. At the end of his seven weeks of investigation, Sinclair returned home from Chicago, locked himself up in a small cabin, and proceeded to write for 9 months (Cherny).

When he emerged from that cabin, Upton Sinclair had finished The Jungle, a novel he hoped would bring to light and change the afflictions of packing house workers. The Jungle tells the fictional story of immigrants from Lithuania who move to and find work in Packingtown. The story is told through an omniscient, 3rd-person narrator who focuses largely on Jurgis Rudkis, a member of the immigrant group. Rudkis had received a job as shoveler of guts at Durham, a fictional meatpacking firm based on the real Armour & Co. “Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). Through Rudkis, Sinclair gained the opportunity to reveal his findings on the corruption of Packingtown. Appeal to Reason published The Jungle as a serial, putting out one chapter per week beginning in late February 1905 (Cherny). Almost immediately sales boomed, reaching 175,000 copies sold per issue. Hoping to reach a larger audience, Sinclair set about trying to have his book published, but publishers were wary of being sued by the meat-packing industries and denied Sinclair numerous times (Cherny).

In the process of trying to find a publisher, Sinclair Mendes 3 continually revised his book; he removed duplicity, edited chapters, and improved his Lithuanian grammar. Finally, just as he began to collect funds to self-publish The Jungle, Doubleday, Page and Company accepted the book (Cherny). However, they too were concerned about being sued, and so they sent one of their editors to ascertain the truth of Sinclair’s novel (Cherny). The editor went to Chicago and spoke to a former meat inspector who verified Sinclair’s research.

Still not satisfied, the editor secured an inspector’s badge so that he could gain access into the packing plants. He concluded that things were indeed as bad as Sinclair had painted and maybe even worse. Upon verification, Doubleday published the book, releasing it on January 25, 1906. Within six weeks the book had sold 25,000 copies (Cherny). Throughout the book, Sinclair details the squalid conditions that workers dealt with. Cutters would often lose their thumbs working with knives”… ill it were a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. ” (Sinclair, 98). These same men had no nails on their remaining fingers because they had all been worn off removing the hides of the animals they cut up. Men in the chilling room lasted only five years before they acquired rheumatism and were fired. Those who labored in the pickling rooms developed painful sores and rashes just by touching things in the room. They also worked with acid that ate away at the joints in their fingers (Sinclair, 98).

The wool-pluckers hands deteriorated faster than the pickling men; they had to apply acid to sheep wool, then pluck it off with their bare hands (Sinclair 98). Beef-luggers, among the strongest of men, carried 200 lb quarters that broke their backs in a few years. Packing house owners didn’t pay laborers for parts of hours worked and would speed up production lines without increasing pay (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). On these sped up production lines workers cut their fingers off at an increased rate.

The factory owners did not Mendes 4 take responsibility for any of these problems, there wasn’t any workman’s compensation at the time, and people were fired once they could no longer meet production quotas. (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). The conditions of the meat were not much better. Meat would be piled on the floor before being hauled off in carts that had held sawdust, dead rats, rat droppings, and even rat poison (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). The owners processed and sold diseased, injured or dead animals.

Upton Sinclair claimed that meat from dead animals killed more U. S. soldiers than the all Spanish soldiers during the Spanish-American War (Sinclair, 96). The packinghouse barons were elated when they received animals with tuberculosis as the disease made them “fatten more quickly” (Sinclair, 97). Meat was packed under false names as well. “Potted game”. “potted grouse”, and “potted ham” were made of tripe, pork fat, beef suet, cow hearts and veal wastes (Sinclair, 96). Tripe was often sprayed with chemicals and sold as deviled ham;”… flavored with spices… ” in order to mask the tastelessness (Sinclair, 97).

Other cold cuts included such things as skin, hair, stomachs, ears, and noses (Muckrakers). The workers, echoing their environment, would sometimes add to the sordidness of the meat. There were often no restrooms, so workers would have to relieve themselves in corners of the processing floors (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). If a restroom was available, there was often no soap in the bathroom and workers would process meat without washing their hands. One of Sinclair’s most famous descriptions of the terrors of the packing house concerned men falling into vats of lard: “… heir peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting… ” (Sinclair, 99). The lard was then sold, with only the bones taken out, as “Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard” (Sinclair, 99).

Mendes 5 Upon publication of The Jungle, the public became outraged, but focused their emotion not on the workers’ conditions as Sinclair had hoped, but on the conditions of the food that meatpackers sold (Muckrakers). Upton Sinclair even acknowledged this irony; he stated “… l] aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach” (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). Even so, the public’s outrage was justified. The public inundated the White House with letters calling on the government to reform the meat-packing industry (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). President Theodore Roosevelt eventually involved himself. After reading the novel, he sent Labor Commissioner Charles Neill and social worker James Reynolds to inspect Sinclair’s claims (“Meat Inspection Act”).

Neill and Reynolds confirmed what Sinclair researched and compiled their findings into the NeillReynolds report (“Meat Inspection Act”). With this new evidence President Roosevelt decided to take action. Although he did not release the Neill-Reynolds report, Roosevelt proposed the Beveridge Amendment (“Meat Inspection Act”), which would require meat packers to allow constant inspections by members of the Agricultural Department and to place stamps on meat products sold (“Meat Inspection Act”). However, once submitted into the House of Representatives, the Beveridge Amendment was defeated.

In retaliation, Roosevelt released the Neill-Reynolds report. As expected, the release of the report devastated the industry; foreign nations refused to let American meat into their countries (“Meat Inspection Act”). The President then proposed the Meat Inspection Act, allowing the U. S. Department of Agriculture to inspect and prevent bad or mislabeled meat from entering into trade. The Act overcame meat-packer opposition and was signed into law on June 30, 1906 (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”).

The passage of the Meat Inspection Act opened the path for Congress to approve a long unsupported bill that regulated the Mendes 6 sale of various kind of foods and drugs. This bill, proposed by Harvey Wiley twenty years earlier, was called the Pure Food and Drug Act and was signed on the same day (“Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle”). Without Upton Sinclair, The Jungle would never have been written. No research would have been done on the meatpacking industry. No public revelation or outrage about the harsh reality of the corruption in the industry would have happened.

President Theodore Roosevelt wouldn’t have sent Neill and Reynolds to compile their report. And without that report, the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act would not have been passed on June 30, 1906. Upton Sinclair initiated the chain of events that led to the passage of these laws, which in turn formed the basis of the “FDA’s modern regulatory functions. ” (“History’). Therefore, we owe the current standard of food production in the United States to this previously unknown fiction writer.

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