Theodore Roosevelt was the first strong leader of the Progressive movements of the twentieth century; however these movements were instigated by the urban middle pilgrim's_progress.jpgclass. But not everyone was thrilled about reform and in fact much of America was unwilling to take steps to improving the situation of society as a whole. The public had no idea of the atrocities being committed under its nose. People placed too much confidence in the government but paid no attention to regulating it. They just assumed government officials would be selfless enough to place the intentions of the American citizens above themselves. This mistake will be a recurring motif in the Progressive Era. In order to get Americans involved, the Liberal media began investigative reports of several industries to reveal to the public their mysterious ways. Teddy Roosevelt coined the term in a speech on April 14, 1906. He called these people Muckrakers because of the dirt they messed with in order to bring to light all the social injustices, and because of the similar term in Pilgrim's Progress of "The man with a rake" who could not focus on anything else but the wonder of the task at hand.

external image moz-screenshot-1.pnghenry_demearest_lloyd.jpg

Early Growth

Some muckrakers began writing during the nineteenth century, yet mostly towards the end of it. yet Muckraking reached its peak in the first decade of the twentieth century. The largest trusts and corporations attracted the attention of journalists right off the bat. The Standard Oil Company forcibly attracted negative attention when Chicago reporter Demearest Lloyd wrote a string of columns for the Atlantic Monthly in 1881. Thirteen years later his exposés were published in the Wealth Against Commonwealth which did not offer any advice on how to correct the rampant corruption it revealed.


Other Published Forms


One of the most successful of the Muckraking propaganda was McClure's Magazine. Founded in 1893 by Irish immigrant Samuel Sidney McClure, its crowning glory were the articles by Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell. Steffens's Tweed Days in St. Louis published in 1902 satirized Boss Tweed's omnipotence in Tammany Hall and the incredible corruption of its other members. Stefffens also wrote The Shame of the Cities that appealed to people's moral compass. He was able to shed light on the shady districts of cities like St Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York and convinced many people there was a need for urban reform.
The probably more notable Tarbell bashed the Standard Oil Trust in her two volume set of the book The History of the Standard Oil Company also in 1902. The muckraking magazines that ensued followed a patter of some true facts and a lot of fictionalized ones. The truth behind it was that sensationalism sold better than outright truth. While several books like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair were written with the intention of improving society, media writers are often writing with a more pressing intention of making money. These sensationalist pot boilers followed the trend of Yellow Journalism that would be an ever present thorn on government's side. the success of McClure's led to rival tabloid magazines like Collier's and Cosmopolitan. They all dealt with the same issues of ruin in economics and politics.


The renowned photographer Jacob Riis created journals on the tenement life of the urban poor. Conditions were so horrendous people could rent out a spot on the floor for ten cents. If ti weren't for government intervention, these room would not have even had access to fresh air. riis published articles in book form like his famous How the Other Half Lives published in 1890.
Theodore Dresier was also a reputable Muckraker. He wrote novels like The Financier and The Titan that displayed the obvious cruelty and greed of industrialism. Muckrakers also published allegorical accounts of corrupt business like Frank Norris' The Octopus, published about railroad companies, and The Pit, on over speculation of new arable land. Because these stories were so fictionalized, they could exaggerate on the horrors more and stir more people into action.


Muckraker as a main income earner in the media slowed down as a result of difficult times. They found it difficult to top their most stressing stories with new original ones. The money brought in by their previous success, however, ensured a strong growing industry. This new industry had to compete just like everybody else and relied on other industries for things like credit. This meant if the media wanted what it needed to continue to be successful, it had to start playing nicely with the big boys. In this way big business in a way forced the media to leave them alone. And of course, without the media telling the public about the new news of the businesses, these large corporations had to develop public relations on their own. This decline came slowly after the booming first decade of the 1900s.

Pilgrim's Progress
Henry Demearest Lloyd
McClure's Magazine
Picture from "How the Other Half Lives"
American History-Brinkley
United States History- Aamsco, Revised Edition