The Muckrakers During the Progressive Era
Naturally, business owners opposed the Progressives; safety regulations, shorter working hours, and a guaranteed minimum wage would eat into their profits. The Progressives retaliated against this opposition by exposing the worst practices of big business in the daily press. Theodore Roosevelt was the first to apply the term muckrakers to the investigative journalists of the day. He compared a reporter to a groom working in a stable: both dug under the surface and raked up the muck and corruption beneath. One issue of McClure’s Magazine advertised the following articles on its front cover:
PITTSBURG: A CITY ASHAMED
LINCOLN STEFFENS’S exposure of another type of municipal grafting; how Pittsburg differs from St. Louis and Minneapolis.
IDA M. TARBELL on the Standard [Oil] tactics which brought on the famous oil crisis of 1878.
Trusts and monopolies were unpopular with most Americans because they drove up prices by eliminating free-market competition for customers. Readers snapped up copies of McClure’s and other similar magazines and newspapers, gleeful at seeing the hated business tycoons exposed. Many muckrakers even wrote full-length books, such as Following the Color Line by Ray Stannard Baker and The Shame of the Cities by Lincoln Steffens. Novelists picked up on many of the same themes. In 1906, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed the shocking practices in the meatpacking industry. Horrified meat-eating readers of The Jungle, knowing that they could count on support from the White House, pushed for reform in the industry. Government inspectors’ reports soon showed that Sinclair had not exaggerated. One report read in part as follows:
We saw meat shoveled from filthy wooden floors, piled on tables rarely washed, pushed from room to room in rotten box carts. In all of which processes it was in the way of gathering dirt, splinters, floor filth, and the expectoration of tuberculous and other diseased workers.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at: