Upton Sinclair (Middle Right) via Wikimedia
CAIRO – 20 September 2017: September 20 is the 139th birthday of U.S. author and activist Upton Sinclair, best known for his book “The Jungle,” which exposed corruption in the meat industry.
Sinclair was born on 1878 in Maryland, Baltimore. From a young age he was well aware of class divides; his parents living in poverty while his mother’s family lived the high-class life. This deep difference forever influenced the young Sinclair, opening his eyes to social injustices and setting him down the path of activism.
Aged 18, Sinclair graduated from the City University of New York, and supported himself by writing novels under a pen name. By 1900, he was married and later had a son, though the marriage eventually went in shambles after he became a socialist. His first few novels received no attention and Sinclair was forced to publish them himself.
All that would change when, while working for the socialist newspaper “Appeal to Reason,” he was asked to investigate mistreatment of workers within the meat packing industry. Sinclair went undercover, documenting the poor sanitary conditions and awful worker treatment in his 1906 book “The Jungle.”
Originally rejected by publishers, the book was eventually published by Doubleday to national shock. While the focus of the book was on the workers’ conditions, Sinclair also detailed the atrocious ways animals were abused, which caused moral outrage in the public, and forever changed the way people thought about their food.
The book was such a massive influence that it was translated into 17 different languages in just a few months of its release. It also led to the passing of the U.S.’s Pure Food and Drug laws. Though Sinclair continued writing, nothing he wrote matched the sheer impact of “The Jungle.”
Sinclair used the money from the book to attempt to fund a socialist community named Helicone Home Colony; it burned down a year later. Sinclair would remarry and continue writing, while also continuing his activist efforts, once attempting to run for democratic governor of California.
He passed away in 1968, having written over 90 books and living a life of the change he wanted to see.