Upton Beall Sinclair Jr.
Born: 20 September
Died: 25 November 1968
Bound Brook, New Jersey
Occupation: Novelist, writer, journalist, political activist
Upton Beall Sinclair
Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968) , was a prolific
American author who wrote over 90 books in many genres and was widely
considered one of the best investigative journalists of his era. Often
advocating socialist views, he achieved considerable popularity in the
first half of the Twentieth Century. He gained particular fame for his
novel, The Jungle (1906), which dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat
packing industry and caused a public uproar that partly contributed
to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection
Act in 1906.
on September 20th, 1878 in Baltimore, Maryland and later moved to New
York City. Upton married his first wife, Molly King in 1900.
An early success
was the Civil War novel Manassas, written in 1903 and published a year
later. Originally projected as the opening book of a trilogy, the success
of The Jungle caused him to drop his plans, although he did revise Manassas
decades later by "moderating some of the exuberance of the earlier
version" . The Jungle brought to light many major
issues in America such as poverty and other social wrongs.
a socialist commune called Helicon Hall Colony in 1906 with proceeds
from his novel The Jungle. One of those who joined was the novelist
and playwright Sinclair Lewis, who worked there as a janitor.
's The JungleSinclair
made several bids for national office. His first was in 1906, the Socialist
Party of America sponsored his candidacy for Congress in New Jersey.
He lost with just over 3% of the votes. 
The colony burned
down in 1907, apparently from arson. After the famed fire of Helicon
Hall, he moved to Arden, Delaware where many Georgist, Socialist, and
Communist "Free Thinkers" lived including Mother Bloor's son
Hamilton "Buzz" Ware. Some say that he worked in a tree house
behind his home during these years.
Around 1911, Sinclair's
wife ran off with the poet Harry Kemp (later known as the Dunes Poet
of Provincetown, Massachusetts). Within a few years, Sinclair moved
to Pasadena, California, where he founded the state's chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union in the 1920s. Sinclair went on to run
unsuccessfully for Congress twice on the Socialist ticket: in 1920 for
the House of Representatives, and in 1922 for the Senate.
book Boston created controversy by proclaiming the innocence of Nicola
Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists who were accused of a murder-robbery
in that city. Sinclair faced what he would later call "the most
difficult ethical problem of my life," when he was told in confidence
by Sacco and Vanzetti's former attorney Fred Moore that they were guilty
and how their alibis were supposedly arranged. However, in the letter
revealing that discussion with Moore, Sinclair also wrote, "I had
heard that Moore was using drugs. I knew that he had parted from the
defense committee after the bitterest of quarrels … Moore admitted
to me that the men themselves had never admitted their guilt to him."
Although the two men were ultimately executed, this episode has been
used by some to claim that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty and that Sinclair
knew that when he wrote his novel. However, this account has been disputed
by Sinclair biographer Greg Mitchell.
In 1934 Sinclair
made his most successful run for office, this time as a Democrat. Sinclair's
platform for the California gubernatorial race of 1934, known as EPIC
(End Poverty in California), galvanized the support of the Democratic
Party, and Sinclair gained its nomination. Conservatives in California
were themselves galvanized by this, as they saw it as an attempted Communist
takeover of their state and used massive political propaganda portraying
Sinclair as a Communist, even as he was being portrayed by American
and Soviet Communists as a capitalist following the Que Viva Mexico!
debacle. Robert A. Heinlein, the science fiction author, was deeply
involved in Sinclair's campaign, a point which Heinlein tried to obscure
from later biographies, as Heinlein tried to keep his personal politics
separate from his public image as an author.
Sinclair was defeated
by Frank F. Merriam in the election and largely abandoned EPIC and politics
to return to writing. However, the race of 1934 would become known as
the first race to use modern campaign techniques like motion pictures.
Of his gubernatorial
bids, Sinclair remarked in 1951: "The American People will take
Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the
case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and
running on the slogan to 'End Poverty in California' I got 879,000.
I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded
in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack,
it is much better to out-flank them."
Sinclair was married
two more times. Later in his life, he moved to Buckeye, Arizona, before
moving to Bound Brook, New Jersey near the end of his life.
He took an interest
in psychic phenomena and experimented with telepathy, writing a book
titled Mental Radio, published in 1930.
His papers, photographs,
and first editions of most of his books are found at the Lilly Library,
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
Political and social
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his
salary depends upon his not understanding it."Sinclair believed
that the main point of The Jungle was lost on the public, overshadowed
by his descriptions of the unhealthy conditions in packing plants. The
public health concerns dealt with in The Jungle are actually far less
significant than the human tragedy lived by his main character and other
workers in the plants. His main goal for the book was to demonstrate
the inhumane conditions of the wage earner under capitalism, not to
inspire public health reforms in how the packing was done. Indeed, Sinclair
lamented the effect of his book and the public uproar that resulted:
"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the
stomach."  Still, the fame and fortune he gained from publishing
The Jungle enabled him to write books on almost every issue of social
injustice in the Twentieth Century.
Sinclair is well-known
for his principle: "It is difficult to get a man to understand
something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
which has been quoted in many political books, essays, articles, and
other forms of media.
Upton Sinclair was
born in Baltimore on 20th September, 1878. His alcoholic father moved
the family to New York City in 1888. Although his own family were extremely
poor, he spent periods of time living with his wealthy grandparents.
He later argued that witnessing these extremes turned him into a socialist.
A religious boy
with a great love of literature, his two great heroes were Jesus Christ
and Percy Bysshe Shelley. An intelligent boy he did well at school and
at 14 entered New York City College. Soon afterwards he had his first
story published in a national magazine. Over the next few years Sinclair
funded his college education by writing stories for newspapers and magazines.
By the age of 17 Sinclair was earning enough money to enable him to
move into his own apartment while supplying his parents with a regular
novel, Springtime and Harvest, was published in 1901. He followed this
with The Journal of Arthur Stirling (1903), Prince Hagen (1903) Manassas
(1904) and A Captain of Industry (1906), but they all sold badly.
In the early 1900s
Sinclair became an active socialist after reading books such as Merrie
England (Robert Blatchford), The People of the Abyss (Jack London),
Appeal to the Young (Peter Kropotkin) and Octypus (Frank Norris). In
September 1905, Sinclair joined with Jack London, Clarence Darrow and
Florence Kelley to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.
The work of Frank
Norris was especially important to the development of Sinclair as a
writer. He later spoke about how Norris had "showed me a new world,
and he also showed me that it could be put in a novel." Sinclair
was also influenced by the investigative journalism of Benjamin Flower,
Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens and Ray Stannard Baker.
In 1904 Fred Warren,
the editor of the socialist journal, Appeal to Reason, commissioned
Sinclair to write a novel about immigrant workers in the Chicago meat
packing houses. Julius Wayland, the owner of the journal provided Sinclair
with a $500 advance and after seven weeks research he wrote the novel,
The Jungle. Serialized in 1905, the book helped to increase circulation
had his novel rejected by six publishers. A consultant at Macmillan
wrote: "I advise without hesitation and unreservedly against the
publication of this book which is gloom and horror unrelieved. One feels
that what is at the bottom of his fierceness is not nearly so much desire
to help the poor as hatred of the rich."
to publish the book himself and after advertising his intentions in
the Appeal to Reason, he he got orders for 972 copies. When he told
Doubleday of these orders, it decided to publish the book. The Jungle
(1906) was an immediate success selling over 150,000 copies. Within
the next few years The Jungle had been published in seventeen languages
and was a best-seller all over the world.
Theodore Roosevelt read The Jungle and ordered an investigation of the
meat-packing industry. He also met Sinclair and told him that while
he disapproved of the way the book preached socialism he agreed that
"radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant
and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist."
With the passing
of the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906),
Sinclair was able to show that novelists could help change the law.
This in itself inspired a tremendous growth in investigative journalism.
Theodore Roosevelt became concerned at this development and described
it as muckraking.
Sinclair was now
a well-known national figure and decided to accept the offer of the
Socialist Party to become its candidate for Congress in New Jersey.
The venture was unsuccessful with Sinclair winning only 750 out of 24,000
In 1906 Sinclair
decided to use some of his Jungle royalties into establishing, Helicon
Home Colony, a socialist community at Eaglewood, New Jersey. One of
those who joined was Sinclair Lewis, who was to be greatly influenced
by Sinclair Upton's views on politics and literature. Four months after
it opened, a fire entirely destroyed Helicon. Later, Sinclair blamed
his political opponents for the fire.
few novels such as The Overman (1907), The Metropolis (1908), The Moneychangers
(1908), Love's Pilgrimage (1911) and Sylvia (1913) were commercially
In 1914 Sinclair
moved to Croton-on-Hudson, a small town close to New York City where
there was a substantial community of radicals living including Max Eastman,
Floyd Dell, Robert Minor, Boardman Robinson and Inez Milholland. He
also pleased his socialist friends with his anthology of social protest,
The Cry for Justice (1915). John Reed wrote to Sinclair that his "anthology
has made more radicals than anything I ever heard of".
of the Socialist Party had argued that the First World War had been
caused by the imperialist competitive system and were opposed to the
United States becoming involved in the conflict. However, news of the
atrocities carried out by German soldiers in Belgium convinced some
members that the United States should join the Allies against the Central
Sinclair took this
view and began arguing this case in the radical journal, The Masses.
Its editor, Max Eastman and John Reed, who had been to the Western Front
and Eastern Front as a war reporter, disagreed and argued against him
in the journal. The issue split the Socialist Party and eventually Sinclair
resigned from the party over it.
After the USA declared
war on the Central Powers in 1917 the Espionage Act was passed and this
resulted in several of Sinclair's socialist opponents, being imprisoned
for their opposition to the war. Sinclair now took up their case and
when Eugene Debs, was imprisoned Sinclair wrote to Woodrow Wilson arguing
that it was "futile to try and win democracy abroad, while we are
losing it at home."
to write political committed novels including King Coal (1917) based
on an industrial dispute and Boston (1928) on the Sacco-Vanzetti Case.
He also wrote books about religion (The Profits of Religion, 1918),
newspapers (The Brass Check, 1919) and education (The Goose-Step, 1923
and The Goslings, 1924).
the Socialist Party and in 1926 was its candidate to become governor
of California. The following year he wrote an article for The Nation
where he admitted he had been wrong about the First World War.
In 1934 Sinclair
once again stood as a candidate to become governor of California. He
lost, but his EPIC program (End Poverty in California) gained considerable
support and this time he won 879,537 votes against the winner's 1,138,620.
In 1940 World's
End launched Sinclair's 11 volume novel series on American government.
His novel Dragon's Teeth (1942) on the rise of Nazism won him the Pulitzer
Prize. By the time Upton Sinclair died in November, 1968, he had published
more than ninety books.