Upton Sinclair

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Upton Sinclair
Born Upton Beall Sinclair Jr.
September 20, 1878(1878-09-20)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died November 25, 1968 (aged 90)
Bound Brook, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting place Rock Creek Cemetery
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Alma mater City College of New York
Columbia University
  • Novelist
  • writer
  • journalist
  • political activist
  • politician
Notable works The Jungle
Political party Socialist Party of America (1902–1934)
Democratic party (United States) (1934–1968)
Spouse Meta Fuller (m. 1900; div. 1911)​
Mary Craig Kimbrough (m. 1913; died 1961)​
Mary Elizabeth Willis (m. 1961; died 1967)
Relatives Arthur Sinclair (great-grandfather), Wallis Simpson (cousin), Corinne Mustin (cousin)

Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. (20 September 1878 – 25 November 1968) was an US-American author and Socialist politician. He wrote close to 100 books in many genres. He achieved popularity in the first half of the 20th century, acquiring particular fame for his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle. It exposed conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.[1] Time magazine called him "a man with every gift except humor and silence."[2]

Aside from his political and social writings, Sinclair took an interest in psychic phenomena and experimented with telepathy. His book entitled Mental Radio was published in 1930 and included accounts of his wife Mary's experiences and ability.[3][4]

The Upton Sinclair House in Monrovia, California, is now a National Historic Landmark. The papers, photographs, and first editions of most of Sinclair's books are found at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington.[5]


Early life and education

Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Upton Beall Sinclair and Priscilla Harden. His father was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism shadowed his son's childhood. Sinclair had wealthy grandparents with whom he often stayed. This gave him insight into how both the rich and the poor lived during the late 19th century. Living in two social settings affected him and greatly influenced his novels.

In 1888, the Sinclair family moved to the Bronx, New York, where Sinclair entered the City College of New York, then a prep school, at the age of sixteen. He wrote dime novels and magazine articles to pay for his tuition.[6] He graduated in 1897 and then studied for a time at Columbia University.[7]


In 1904 Sinclair spent seven weeks in disguise, working undercover in Chicago's meatpacking plants to research his fictional exposé, The Jungle. When it appeared in 1906, it became a bestseller. With the income from The Jungle, Sinclair founded the utopian Helicon Home Colony in Englewood, New Jersey. He ran as a Socialist candidate for Congress.[8][9] The colony burned down under suspicious circumstances within a year.[10]

During his years with his second wife, Mary Craig (or Craig, as she is called in references), Sinclair wrote or produced several films. Recruited by Charlie Chaplin, Sinclair and Mary Craig produced Eisenstein's ¡Qué viva México! in 1930-32.[11][12][13][14]

The Sinclairs moved to California in the 1920s and lived there for nearly four decades. Late in life Sinclair, with his third wife, moved to Buckeye, Arizona and then to Bound Brook, New Jersey.

Political career

In the 1920s the Sinclairs moved to Monrovia, California, near Los Angeles, where Upton founded the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Wanting to pursue politics, he twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Socialist ticket: in 1920 for the House of Representatives and in 1922 for the Senate. During this period, Sinclair was also active in radical politics in Los Angeles. For instance, in 1923, to support the challenged free speech rights of Industrial Workers of the World, Sinclair spoke at a rally in San Pedro, California, in a neighborhood now known as Liberty Hill. He began to read from the Bill of Rights and was promptly arrested, along with hundreds of others, by the LAPD. The arresting officer proclaimed that "we'll have none of that Constitution stuff."[15]

In 1934 Sinclair ran in the California gubernatorial election as a Democrat. Gaining 879,000 votes made this his most successful run for office, but Frank F. Merriam defeated him by a sizable margin.[16] Sinclair's platform, known as the End Poverty in California movement (EPIC), galvanized the support of the Democratic Party, and Sinclair gained its nomination.[17]

Severe dust storms during the Great Depression made farming on the Great Plains impossible, and hundreds of thousands of Southern and Great Plains residents migrated westward in the 1930s in the hope of finding work and a new life. Sinclair's plan to end poverty quickly became a controversial issue under the pressure of so many migrants. Conservatives considered his proposal an attempted communist takeover of their state and quickly opposed him, using propaganda to portray Sinclair as a staunch communist. At the same time, American and Soviet communists disassociated themselves from him as a capitalist. [18] Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein was deeply involved in Sinclair's campaign. Heinlein tried to obscure this in later life, as he wanted to keep his personal politics separate from his public image as an author.[19]

After his loss to Merriam, Sinclair abandoned EPIC and politics to return to writing. In 1935 Sinclair published I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked, in which he described the techniques employed by Merriam's supporters, including the popular Aimee Semple McPherson, who vehemently opposed socialism and what she perceived as Sinclair's modernism.

Of his gubernatorial bid, 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."[20]


Sinclair died there in a nursing home on November 25, 1968.[21] He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., next to his third wife, Mary Willis, who died a year before him.


Sinclair married his first wife, Meta Fuller, in 1902. Around 1911, Meta left Sinclair for the poet Harry Kemp, later known as the Dunes Poet of Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In 1913 Sinclair married Mary Craig Kimbrough (1883–1961), a woman from an elite Greenwood, Mississippi family who had written articles and a book on Winnie Davis, the "Daughter of the Confederacy". In the 1920s, they moved to California. They were married until her death in 1961.

After Craig's death in 1961, Sinclair married Mary Elizabeth Willis (1882–1967).

Writing career

Sinclair devoted his writing career to documenting and criticizing the social and economic conditions of the early twentieth century in both fiction and non-fiction. He exposed his view of the injustices of capitalism and the overwhelming impact of the poverty. He also edited collections of fiction and non-fiction.

The Jungle

In The Jungle (1906), Sinclair gave a scathing indictment of unregulated capitalism as exemplified in the meatpacking industry. His descriptions of both the unsanitary conditions and the inhumane conditions experienced by the workers shocked and galvanized readers. Sinclair had intended it as an attack upon capitalist enterprise, but readers reacted viscerally. Domestic and foreign purchases of American meat fell by half.[22] Sinclair lamented: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."[2] The novel was so influential that it spurred government regulation of the industry, as well as the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.[23]

Sylvia novels

  • Sylvia (1913) was a novel about a Southern girl. In her autobiography, Mary Craig Sinclair said she had written the book based on her own experiences as a girl, and Upton collaborated with her.[24] She asked him to publish it under his name.[25] When it appeared in 1913, the New York Times called it "the best novel Mr. Sinclair has yet written–so much the best that it stands in a class by itself."[26]
  • Sylvia's Marriage (1914), Craig and Sinclair collaborated on a sequel, also published by John C. Winston Company under only Sinclair's name.[27]

In his 1962 autobiography, Upton Sinclair wrote: "[Mary] Craig had written some tales of her Southern girlhood; and I had stolen them from her for a novel to be called Sylvia."[28]

The Lanny Budd series

Between 1940 and 1953, Sinclair wrote a series of 11 novels featuring a central character named Lanny Budd. He was the son of an American arms manufacturer who moved in the confidence of world leaders, not simply witnessing events but often propelling them. The protagonist has been characterized as the antithesis of the "Ugly American", a sophisticated socialite who mingles easily with people from all cultures and socioeconomic classes.[29]

The series covers in sequence much of the political history of the Western world, particularly Europe and America, in the first half of the twentieth century. Out of print and almost totally forgotten today, the novels were all bestsellers upon publication and were published in 21 countries. The third book in the series, Dragon's Teeth, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943.

The novels in the Lanny Budd series are:

Later references to Sinclair

Sinclair is extensively featured in Harry Turtledove's American Empire trilogy, an alternate history series in which the American Socialist Party succeeds in becoming a major force in U.S. politics following two humiliating military defeats to the Confederate States and the post-1882 collapse of the Republican Party, with Abraham Lincoln leading a large number of Republicans into the Socialist Party. He wins the 1920 and 1924 presidential elections and becomes the first Socialist President of the United States, his inauguration attended by crowds of jubilant militants waving red flags. However, the actual policies which Turtledove attributes to him, once in power, are not particularly radical.[citation needed]

In the late 1990s, the television program Working used as its setting a company named Upton Weber. With the show's implicit criticism of contemporary working conditions, however watered down for popular audiences, the name suggests a reference both to Upton Sinclair and Max Weber.

Sinclair is featured as one of the main characters in Chris Bachelder's satirical fictional book, U.S.!: a Novel. Repeatedly, Sinclair is resurrected as a personification of the contemporary failings of the American left and portrayed as a quixotic reformer attempting to stir an apathetic American public to implement socialism in America.


  • The Jungle (1906) was adapted for film in 1914.[30] Sinclair appears at the beginning and end of the film "as a form of endorsement."[31]






As editor


  1. Humane Society of the United States: "The Jungle: Upton Sinclair's Roar Is Even Louder to Animal Advocates Today," March 10, 2006, accessed June 10, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 TIME: Books: Uppie's Goddess, November 18, 1957, accessed November 6, 2010
  3. Martin Gardner, Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (Courier Dover Publications, 1957), 309-10, available online, accessed July 25, 2010
  4. Google Books: Mental Radio, accessed July 25, 2010
  5. Upton Sinclair (1878-1968). Lilly Library Collections. Indiana University Bloomington.
  6. Sinclair, Upton (1906). "What Life Means to Me", The Cosmopolitan. Schlicht & Field, 591ff. Retrieved on 6 October 2011. 
  7. Encyclopedia Britannica: "Upton Sinclair", accessed June 16, 2010
  8. "Upton Sinclair's Colony To Live At Helicon Hall. Luxury In Co-Operation And There May Be Some Compromises Just At First" (PDF). New York Times. 7 October 1906. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9E05E3DE1631E733A25754C0A9669D946797D6CFD6CF. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  9. Paulin, L.R.E. (March 1907). "Simplified Housekeeping: The Present Quarters of Upton Sinclair's Colony At Englewood, New Jersey". Indoors and Out: the Homebuilder's Magazine III (6): 288–292. Retrieved on 2009-08-16.
  10. "Fire Wipes Out Helicon Hall, And Upton Sinclair Hints That the Steel Trust's Hand May Be In It" (PDF). New York Times. 17 March 1907. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9406E5DB163EE233A25754C1A9659C946697D6CF. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  11. Internet Movie Database: Que Viva Mexico, accessed June 16, 2010
  12. Internet Movie Database:: "Upton Sinclair: Producer", accessed June 16, 2010
  13. Internet Movie Database:: "Mary Craig Sinclair", accessed June 16, 2010
  14. For Chaplin's role and an extensive discussion of the project, see Cinescene: Chris Dashiell, "Eisenstein's Mexican Dream," 1998, accessed June 16, 2010
  15. (2005) The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City, second, University of California Press. ISBN 9780520250093. 
  16. Sinclair, Upton. "End Poverty in California The EPIC Movement", The Literary Digest, 13 Oct 1934
  17. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, The Nation 1865-1990, p. 80, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990 ISBN 1-56025-001-1
  18. Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign in California (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991)
  19. Patterson, William H. Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve New York: Tor Books, 2010; pp. 187-205, 527-530, and passim
  20. Spartacus Educational: "Socialist Party of America," Upton Sinclair, letter to Norman Thomas (25th September, 1951), accessed June 10, 2010
  21. New York Times: "Upton Sinclair, Author, Dead," November 26, 1968, accessed July 22, 2010
  22. PBS: "Sinclair's 'The Jungle' Turns 100 ," May 10, 2006, accessed June 10, 2010
  23. Marcus, p. 131
  24. According to Craig, at her insistence Sinclair published Sylvia (1913) under his name. In her 1957 memoir, she described how she and her husband had collaborated on the work: "Upton and I struggled through several chapters of Sylvia together, disagreeing about something on every page. But now and then each of us admitted that the other had improved something. I was learning fast now that this novelist was not much of a psychologist. He thought of characters in a book merely as vehicles for carrying his ideas." Mary Craig Sinclair, Southern Belle, 106-8, 111-2, 129-32, 142; quote 111-2
  25. Peggy W. Prenshaw, "Sinclair, Mary Craig Kimbrough," in James B. Lloyd, ed., Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, 409-10, available online, accessed November 9, 2010
  26. "'Sylvia': Mr. Upton Sinclair's Novel upon a Much-Discussed Theme", New York Times, 25 May 1913, accessed November 6, 2010
  27. Southern Belle, p. 146
  28. Upton Sinclair, The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962, pp. 180, 195
  29. Salamon, Julie (22 July 2005). "Upton Sinclair: Revisit to Old Hero Finds He's Still Lively". New York Times: Books. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/22/books/22sala.html. Retrieved 21 January 2010. 
  30. Internet Movie Database: "The Jungle (1914)", accessed July 1, 2010
  31. New York Times: "The Jungle (1914)", accessed July 1, 2010
  32. Internet Movie Database: The Wet Parade (1932), accessed June 10, 2010
  33. Internet Movie Database: The Gnome-Mobile, accessed June 10, 2010
  34. Internet Movie Database: There Will Be Blood (2007)
  35. Martin Gardner, Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (Courier Dover Publications, 1957), 221-3, available online, accessed July 25, 2010