Truth about 'The Jungle' Govt Investigations

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    What is the truth about the investigations that followed Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’?

    In the aftermath of the release of his book, I understand the Meat Packers went on a PR campaign to counter negative publicity, opening their doors, giving free tours, etc. Yet the book’s negative imagery spawned 2 govt investigations anyway. There’s the Ag Dept report that declared that while there was certainly room for improvement, that Sinclair’s descriptions are wildly exaggerated. Then, after that report, a second “secret” investigation was conducted by a pair of Roosevelt’s close advisors. This report found that not only were Sinclair’s accusations valid, but his book likely understated the true scope of the problem.

    Now it seems that one’s view of the situation is colored by one’s own politics:

    For those that see corporations as corrupt and believe that govt is the great equalizer that is the only thing that keeps corporations from running roughshod over individuals, then you likely see a fake PR campaign by the meat packers to evade blame followed by a clearly corrupt Ag Dept that was paid off to deliver an inaccurate report saying that the meat packing conditions were actually pretty good and Sinclair was exaggerating. Thankfully Roosevelt didn’t believe it and commissioned the second, secret investigation to REALLY get to the bottom of things and it found that conditions WERE bad and required govt intervention and regulations to clean things up and protect consumers.

    For those that see govt as the primary source of corruption, then you likely see an understandable PR campaign to attempt to counter negative publicity followed by a likely balanced Ag Dept report that found that things could be improved (it was ~1900 after all), but that Sinclair’s book was grossly exaggerated. Then Roosevelt, wanting to assert federal authority over food, refused to accept that report and commissioned an “investigation” by two close advisors that would find rampant negligence and putrid conditions (whether they existed or not). Then he used this “report” to pressure hesitant legislators into voting for the “much needed” bill.

    These are pretty mutually exclusive perspectives, but I cannot find any hard evidence that indicates which of these descriptions is more accurate. Any help would be appreciated.


    It looks like this is the kind of question that only specialists can answer, and I can’t find any specialists. There’s at least this article by Lawrence Reed:

    And this appears to be a standard work:


    Thanks Dr Woods for the effort and links. I think I have my new “Stump the Historian” dinner question. 🙂

    I may also have my new personal research project. I’ll update if I can find anything.

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