On this day, Upton Sinclair, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and reformer, is born in Baltimore, Maryland.
Sinclair came from a once well-to-do Southern family that had suffered reverses. When he was 10, the family moved to New York. Starting at age 15, he earned money writing dime novels, which paid his way through New York’s City College and Columbia University.
Sinclair, who married in 1900, also earned money writing journalistic pieces. An assignment on meat-packing plants led to his bestselling novel The Jungle, in which an idealistic immigrant goes to work in the Chicago stockyards. Unable to find a publisher for his book, he ultimately published it himself. The novel’s gritty portrayal of labor abuses and unsanitary conditions led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
The book became a bestseller. Sinclair used the proceeds to fund a socialist utopia called Helicone Home Colony in Englewood, New York. However, the cooperative-living building burned down after a year, and Sinclair gave up the project. He wrote several more well-known novels, though none were as successful as his first. The Metropolis (1908) examined high society in New York, Oil! (1927) looked at the Teapot Dome scandal, and Boston (1928) dealt with the controversial Sacco and Vanzetti trial.
Sinclair moved to Pasadena in 1915. He fought for leftist reforms in the 1930s and 1940s. Meanwhile, he wrote a series of 11 novels looking at contemporary history. His hero, Larry Budd, travels the world and meets such figures as Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. In 1942, his book Dragon’s Teeth, portraying Germany’s descent into Nazism in the 1930s, won the Pulitzer Prize. The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair came out in 1962, and the author died six years later in Bound Brook, New Jersey.