Muckrakers and Political Reforms

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The impact and origins of muckraking journalism in the U.S

Summary:

Muckraking journalism originated in the late 19th century and gained prominence in the early 20th century, aiming to raise public awareness about societal issues caused by the industrial revolution. Influential muckrakers like Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell played key roles in enacting legislation such as the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. This reform-driven journalism, akin to today's investigative reporting, inspired significant societal change.

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How did muckraking journalism change the U.S?

I wanted to add a specific detail.  Roosevelt was VERY impressed with Lewis' "The Jungle," so much so that it is often directly linked to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. 

It is easy to find information about this, but you might want to start with a letter from Roosevelt to Lewis:  http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=1299

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How did muckraking journalism change the U.S?

The 'Muckrakers' style of journalism articulated reform, reform, reform. Beginning in the late 19th century and gaining popularity through the first decade of the 20th century, their agenda was to raise public awareness. It is important to note that this style of journalism was met with rising literacy rates, which meant public opinion would eventually get louder. This style of journalism inspired Americans to take action against the ills of society created by the industrial revolution. For example, the stratifications between big business and those they employed, child labor, relationships between big business and political machines, unhealthy and unsanitary working conditions to name but a few. The influence of well known muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell and Jacob Riis were instrumental in the passage of important congressional legislation. Two of the best well known laws are the Food and Drug Act and The Meat Inspection Act. These laws along with many others were passed due to the publics' outcry for reform. The public was educated about these social ills due to this new brand of journalism. By today's standards this type of journalism is regarded as the 'investigative reporter'.

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Why and how was muckraking possible?

Muckraking should be viewed as a significant feature of the Progressive Era in the United States. During this period, myriad reforms, increased government regulation, environmental protection, and trust busting took place. The muckrakers informed the public of the issues of the day and helped win public support for significant changes. Rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century had led to vast transformations in the country, and the muckrakers played an indispensable role in publicizing those that had had an adverse impact.

The term muckraker was first coined by President Teddy Roosevelt in a speech in April 1906. A muckraker, one who rakes muck, spread often scandalous news about shortcomings in the economy and society.

One prominent muckraker was Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle. This book exposed unsanitary conditions in Chicago's meatpacking industry. Sinclair, a socialist, wrote the book in an effort to highlight the plight of poor immigrants and their long hours of drudgery in factories. The American public was incensed by the filthy methods and ingredients used in meat production and demanded reform. The result was the passage of the Food and Drug Act of 1906.

The case of Upton Sinclair was not an anomaly. Muckrakers often paved the way for political reforms and new legislation. Another example of this phenomenon was Ida Tarbell's scathing indictment of the oil business in her book The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904). Her book helped lead to the breakup of some monopolies.

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