The Life and Accomplishments of Upton Sinclair

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Words: 1051 |

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6 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Words: 1051|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Upton Sinclair was born in a small row house in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 20, 1878. Sinclair was the only child of an alcoholic liquor salesman, Upton Beall Sinclair, and a strict, strong-willed mother, Priscilla Harden. During his childhood he was raised on the edge of poverty, and was able to experience privilege when visiting his mother’s family. At the age of ten, Sinclair’s father decided to move his family from Baltimore to New York City, notably, at this time, Sinclair had already began to show interest in writers such as William Shakespeare and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Sinclair began selling children’s books at the age of fourteen while he attended the City College of New York, and after graduating in 1897, he then began attending Columbia University at the age of nineteen. In 1900, he married Meta Fuller, and had one son named David on December 1st, 1901. Later on in 1913 after divorcing Meta Fuller in 1911, he got remarried to Mary Craig Sinclair, and after divorcing Mary Craig in 1961, he remarried for the last time that same year to Mary Elizabeth Hard Willis.

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Sinclair’s political opinions lead to his first literary success and the one for which he is most known. The disrespect he developed for the upper class as a child led Sinclair to socialism in 1903. In 1904 he was sent to Chicago by the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason to write an exposé on the mistreatment of workers in the meatpacking industry. For seven consecutive weeks, he frequently visited Packingtown, which was the residential district next to the packing plants and stockyards. Sinclair posed as a worker, and began packing plants to achieve firsthand knowledge of the work. He then pursued social workers, police officers, physicians, and others who were able to tell him topics surrounding the work and lifestyle in Packingtown. Socialists that lived in the area introduced him to other individuals, who acknowledge the community and the work that occurred.

After those seven weeks had passed, he returned home to New Jersey, and began writing his manuscript of “The Jungle.” Unsurprisingly, it was rejected by publishers, but in 1906 the novel was finally released by Doubleday. Sinclair’s intention was to reveal the plight of laborers at the meatpacking plants, but instead his vivid descriptions of the cruelty to animals and unsanitary conditions caused a horrific public outcry, dramatically changing the way individuals shopped for food. Sinclair recounted the individuals who worked in the packinghouse experiencing afflictions such as severed fingers, tuberculosis and blood poisoning. President Theodore Roosevelt read Sinclair’s novel, and invited Sinclair to the White House and set forth an inspection of the meatpacking industry. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were both passed in 1906. Later in 1938, Congress expanded the regulatory functions of the law passed in 1906, and extended the FDA’s control over processed foods. Then, in 1990, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, that required food products, including processed meat, to have basic nutritional information.

Unlike many previous authors who had said that the revision of the issues could be solved by the election of “honest men”, Sinclair believed in “the rejection of capitalism and the victory of socialism.” He wanted his readers to recognize that the horrors portrayed in his book were from corporate greed; he believed that the meatpacking industry was a community of capitalism.

Another big novel was Dragon’s Teeth, published in 1942 as part of a series of eleven novels about the son of an American arms manufacturer. This book won him his greatest achievement in his life the Pulitzer prize.

An additional notable accomplishment was in September 1905, when Sinclair helped to establish the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which was a socialist based student organization that was active until 1921, when they changed the group’s name to “the League of Industrial Democracy” to symbolize the shift in importance to the community itself. This society provided seminars, discussion circles, and magazines all across the United States to broadcast socialist concepts to the population of college students. Because of this, it lead and inspired many intelligent individuals and writers to join. However, it was recognized by many that after the Russian Revolution, socialism was very unpopular in the United States. Yet these intellectuals continued to promote the idea of socialism to those who supported it.

Sinclair was one of the most prominent early proponents of socialism in the United States, starting in his college days. He broke with the socialist party to support the United States entering World War I, but later came back to the party. In the 1920’s, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate as a socialist. He ran as a socialist for governor of California in 1930. He never won. In 1934, he ran for governor of California as a Democrat. His platform was known as End Poverty in California (EPIC). Although he lost, he greatly influenced the Democratic party at a time when a large influx of migrants arrived, fleeing from the Dust Bowl. He received 60,000 votes as a socialist and 879,000 votes as a Democrat, which led Sinclair in 1951 to observe that “The American people will take socialism, but they won’t take the label.” He also founded the California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

After losing the campaign for governor in 1934, Sinclair abandoned politics and returned to writing. He wrote a novel called I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked in 1935. The book contained a famous line, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” It has been used many times, including by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth.

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Upton Sinclair died in New Jersey in 1968, at the age of ninety. Over ninety years Sinclair achieved a great number of things. He was a prolific writer, political activist and political candidate. His most famous book, The Jungle, brought to the attention of the entire United States the horrendously unsanitary conditions of meatpacking and the oppressive conditions faced by workers in that industry. At the end of life Sinclair had published nearly one hundred books in many different genres. Sinclair is known as one of the greatest writers in American history, who exposed greed, oppression of workers, and the dark side of rising American capitalism and who gave legitimacy to socialism in the country.

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Cite this Essay

Upton Sinclair’s Memoir. (2022, November 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“Upton Sinclair’s Memoir.” GradesFixer, 28 Nov. 2022,
Upton Sinclair’s Memoir. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Dec. 2023].
Upton Sinclair’s Memoir [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Nov 28 [cited 2023 Dec 2]. Available from:
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