Upton Beale Sinclair, Jr. (1878-1968), American novelist and political writer, was one of the most influential muckraking writers of the 1900s. He continued to write and speak for reform for many years.
Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Md., on Sept. 20, 1878. His father, struggling against poverty and liquor, moved the family to New York City when Upton was 10. At 14 Upton entered the College of the City of New York. He graduated in 1897 and went to Columbia University to study law. Through these years he supported himself by writing for adventure-story magazines.
Sinclair moved to Quebec in 1900. His first novel, Springtime and Harvest (1901), was a modest success. Three more novels in the next 4 years failed to provide even a bare living. In 1906, however, The Jungle, exposing unfair labor practices and unsanitary conditions in the packing houses of Chicago, scored a huge success. The novel's protest about the lot of laborers and the socialist solutions it proposed did not have much immediate effect, but its exposé caused a public outcry. President Theodore Roosevelt invited Sinclair to discuss packing-house conditions, and a congressional investigation led to passage of the Pure Food and Drug Law.
Sinclair divorced his first wife in 1912. The autobiographical novel Love's Pilgrimage (1911) treats his marriage and the birth of his child with a frankness which shocked some reviewers. He married Mary Craig in 1913. Sylvia and Sylvia's Marriage, a massive two-part story, called for sexual enlightenment. King Coal (1917), based on a coal strike of 1914-1915, returned to labor protest and socialistic polemic. Oil! (1927) dealt with dishonesty in Warren G. Harding's administration. Boston (1928), a novel about the Sacco-Vanzetti case, unearthed much new material and demonstrated the constructive research that always lay beneath Sinclair's protest writings.
Sinclair became a member of the Socialist party in 1902 and was Socialist candidate for Congress from New Jersey in 1906. In 1917 he left the party to support President Woodrow Wilson. He returned to the Socialist camp when Wilson supported Allied intervention in the Soviet Union. In California he stood for Congress on the Socialist ticket (1920), for the Senate (1922), and for governor (1926 and 1930). In 1933, persuaded to campaign seriously for governor, he called his program "End Poverty in California." His cogent presentation of Socialist ideas won him the Democratic nomination, but millions of dollars and a campaign based on falsehood and fear defeated him in the election.
World's End (1940) launched Sinclair's 11-volume novel series attempting to give an insider's view of American government between 1913 and 1949. One of the novels, Dragon's Teeth (1942), a study of the rise of Nazism, won the Pulitzer Prize. Before his death on Nov. 25, 1968, Sinclair had produced more than 90 books which netted at least $1 million, most of it contributed to socialist and reform causes.
Sinclair's My Lifetime in Letters (1960) and The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962) are revealing, if not entirely reliable. Sinclair's work is discussed appreciatively in Alfred Kazin, On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature (1942). A brief essay and a rare reprint of the "End Poverty in California" program are in Arthur M. Weinberg, Passport to Utopia: Great Panaceas in American History (1968). □