Recall History: Upton Sinclair and The Jungle

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Upton Sinclair, an American journalist and writer, released a book entitled The Jungle in 1906. The book describes, in great detail, the horrid working and living conditions of immigrants in America around the turn of the century.

However, while Sinclair’s stated goal with the book was to raise awareness and increase social justice, his book’s main impact was the creation of the Meat Inspection Act. How, exactly, did the author manage to have such a massive impact that was somewhat tangential to his original intent?

How Upton Sinclair (Accidentally) Started Modern Quality Assurance

The Jungle

In the 1906 novel The Jungle, author Upton Sinclair set about trying to tug at the heartstrings of American readers by depicting the squalid conditions that the average immigrant lived in at the time. A huge focus of the book is the conditions under which factory laborers had to work: extreme hours, disgusting work and pitifully low pay. That part about the disgusting work is the one that really resonated with people, though.

The Meat Packaging Industry

Here’s a little-known fact about meat: it’s made from dead animals. Okay, jokes aside, meat is actually pretty gross when you get down to it. Without any laws in place to protect consumers from factories cutting corners, of course, the meat won’t be stored properly. And it won’t be packaged properly. This was detailed in a few passages in The Jungle, and this served as something of a horrifying wake-up call to Americans in general and legislators in particular.

Research

In order to research the book, Sinclair spent six weeks in 1904 undercover, posing as a meat packaging factory employee. At the time, he was employed by a Chicago newspaper, and the research was going towards an article Sinclair was writing for the publication. During his time there, he witnessed firsthand how disgusting the conditions (and meats) in the factories were.

The Meat Inspection Act

While the book was meant to be a call to action for Socialist engagement in the country, the people who read the book were mostly transfixed by the ghastly state of the meat that would be packaged in American factories. Speaking on the subject, Sinclair once stated: “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident, I hit it in the stomach.”

Due to outcry from the public caused by the novel, Congress enacted the Meat Inspection Act, one of the first formers of modern quality assurance in the United States.