Muckrakers During The Progressive Era Essay

From the 1890s to the 1920s, many citizens of the United States participated in social activism in order to bring about social and political change. “Muckrakers” played an essential role during this Progressive Era. These journalists had the objective of educating the public about issues and persuading more people to fight for reform, and they did so by exposing society’s flaws through their work. One of the most key muckrakers at the time was journalist and author Upton Sinclair, Jr. He wrote “The Jungle”, a novel about the ills of the meat-packing industry.

The publishing of “The Jungle” influenced the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the Federal Meat Inspection Act by showing what was actually going on in the factories and how owners had no regard for the worker’s safety or the public’s safety. The original goal of Sinclair’s novel was to help inform about the horrible working conditions within the factories at the time and how they affected the health of the workers. He wanted to humanize immigrant workers who were often forced to work under terrible conditions.

In the novel, one of the characters, Elzbieta was a worker in a meat-packing factory. According to the narrator, “she was sick and miserable, and often she would barely have strength enough to drag herself home. And there they would eat what they had to eat, and afterward, because there was only their misery to talk of, they would crawl into bed and fall into a stupor and never stir until it was time to get up again, and dress by candlelight, and go back to the machines. They were so numbed that they did not even suffer much from hunger,” (Sinclair).

This passage shows how miserable the work was for the American citizens. Long, grueling hours often met with the disease-ridden factory conditions made it incredibly difficult to survive in a healthy manner. Workers also had to endure aspects of the factory such as having to wash their hands in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage, threatening not only the worker’s health but the public’s health as well. Although the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the Federal Meat Inspection Act did not specifically apply to these worker’s conditions, some of the new rules helped anyway.

Section 608 of the Federal Meat Inspection Act stated that all workers must be informed and follow the sanitary regulations, thus keeping their health and the public health’s in mind. Also, these workers were given the right to refuse to inspect and pass meat that had the potential be labeled adulterated, rather than giving in to the corporation’s profit-centered intentions. Ultimately though, the public cared more about the state of their meat than the state of the workers who were preparing it.

The main influence that “The Jungle” had in bringing to pass the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the Federal Meat Inspection Act was because of public safety. Sinclair wrote about the horrible conditions and regulations within the factories. Some of the conditions included old, moldy, white sausage that had been rejected would be dosed with borax and glycerin, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption and the fact that thousands of rats ran and got into the meat, then rats and meat would go into the hoppers together, and many more.

Because of the public outcry about this newfound information, Theodore Roosevelt called for the creation of a government system that would ensure sanitary and safe foods. This is when the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the Federal Meat Inspection were created. The Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 included new laws that would allow food and drugs to be adulterated or misbranded if the correct conditions were not met. This made it so packages would not be allowed to be altered in any way, and must be labeled with the correct ingredients.

Also, foods would not be allowed to contain parts of “filthy, decomposed or putrid nimal or vegetable substance” (Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906), and drugs must abide by certain standards of strength and purity. Along with those new laws, the Federal Meat Inspection Act made it so sanitary regulations must be kept in all factories, and all food products must be inspected and examined before being passed onto the public (Federal Meat Inspection Act). Although Sinclair’s initial purpose was to bring about reform when it came to the worker’s mental and physical health, his novel achieved much more than that when it came to public health.

Because it exhibited the disgusting characteristics of how their food was being brought to the table during this era, the people desired a government system to ensure that the products they were putting into their bodies would be clean, safe and sanitary. This ultimately was the point at the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the Federal Meat Inspection Act were created, which has radically changed the standards of conditions in factories to this day.