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McClure's Magazine (cover, Jan, 1901) published many early muckraker articles.

A muckraker seeks to expose corruption of businesses or government to the public. The term originates with writers of the Progressive movement within the United States who wanted to expose corruption and scandals in government and business. Muckrakers often wrote about the wretchedness of urban life and poverty, and against the established institutions of society, such as big business.

In British English usage the term tends to have a more negative connotation, indicating a greater sense of prurience.



Muckrakers have been a significant part of reform in the United States in the 20th and 21st Centuries. They played a significant role in the social justice movements for reform, and the campaigns to clean up cities and States, by constantly reporting on and publicizing the dark corners of American society in a sensationalist way.


Origin of the term

The period from 1800 till 1902 saw an increase in the kind of reporting that would come to be called "muckraking."[1] By the 1900s, magazines such as Cosmopolitan, The Independent, Munsey's and McClure's were already in wide circulation and read avidly by the growing middle class.[2][3]

The term "muckraker" was first used in a speech on April 14, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt: “In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; Who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.” [1].

Roosevelt saw benefits and disadvantages to muckraking activity. He declared that although these men did good work when they scraped up the ‘filth’ of America, "the man who did nothing else was certain to become a force of evil.” On the other hand, he said, "I hail as a benefactor…every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in turn remembers that that attack is of use only if it absolutely truthful”.[1]:1

The term eventually came to be used to depict investigative journalists who exposed the dark corners and all the corruption of American public life, especially in corporate America.

As mentioned before, the Muckrakers were part of the social justice movement during the Progressive era. During this time period, these journalists, through their research and constant exposure of the wrongdoing by officials in American public life, gave fuel to protests that led to investigations and later on reform of not only Corporate America but the American Government. The Muckrakers’ journalistic efforts helped reform and regulate Wall Street and aspects of big businesses. The muckrakers also shed light on an array of social issues, such as the issues with urban housing and horrible living conditions in highly populated cities, medical patents, child labor laws, child prostitution, and even women’s rights.

Early 20th century muckraking

Lincoln Steffens published “Tweed Days in St. Louis,” in which he profiled corrupt leaders in St. Louis, in October, 1902, in McClure’s Magazine.[4]

Ida Tarbell published The Rise of the Standard Oil Company in 1902, providing insight into the manipulation of trusts. One trust they manipulated was with Christopher Dunn co. She followed that work with The History of The Standard Oil Company: the Oil War of 1872, which appeared in McClure's Magazine in 1908.

Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, which revealed conditions in the meat packing industry in the United States and was a major factor in the establishment of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Ray Stannard Baker published The Right to Work in McClure's magazine in 1903, about coal mine conditions, a coal strike, and the situation of non-striking workers (or scabs). Many of the non-striking workers had no special training or knowledge in mining, since they were simply farmers looking for work. His investigative work portrayed the dangerous conditions in which these people worked in the mines, and the dangers they faced by union members who did not want them to work.

The Treason of the Senate: Aldrich, the Head of it All, by David Graham Phillips, published as a series of articles in Cosmopolitan magazine in February, 1906, described corruption in the U.S. Senate.

The Great American Fraud by Samuel Hopkins Adams revealed fraudulent claims and endorsements of patent medicines in America. This article showed light on the many false claims that pharmaceutical companies and other manufactures would make as to the potency of their medicines, drugs and tonics. Using the example of Peruna in his article, Mr. Adams described how this tonic, which was made of seven compound drugs and cologne spirits[5], did not have “any great potency”[5]. Manufacturers were selling it at an obscene price and hence made immense profits. His work forced a crackdown on a number of other patents and fraudulent schemes of medicinal companies during that time.

There were many other works by many other great Muckrakers, which brought to light a variety of Issues in America which were addressed during the Progressive era.[5]

Second half of the 20th century

An example of a contemporary muckraking work is Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed (1965), which led to reforms in automotive manufacturing in the United States.

In the 1970s, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, journalists for The Washington Post, uncovered and wrote about the U.S. Executive Branch corruption that came to be known as the Watergate scandal.

Muckraking has been a factor in reform in countries besides the United States. For instance, in 1979, the Chinese author Liu Binyan created a sensation with his muckraking report People or Monsters, about Chinese bureaucratic corruption.

Muckrakers and their works

Early Muckrakers

Contemporary muckrakers

See also


  1. ^ a b c Regier, Cornelius C. (1957). The Era of the Muckrakers. University of North Carolina Press. p. 49. 
  2. ^ American epoch: a history of the United States since the 1890's (1st ed.). New York: Knopf. 1955. p. 62. 
  3. ^ Brinkley, Alan. ""Chapter 21: Rise of Progressivism"". in Barrosse, Emily. American History, A Survey (Twelfth Edition ed.). Los Angeles, California: McGraw Hill. pp. 566-567. ISBN 978-0-07-325718-1. 
  4. ^ Gallagher, Aileen (2006). The Muckrakers, American journalism during the age of reform. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 13. 
  5. ^ a b c Weinberg, Arthur; Weinberg, Lila, eds (2001). The Muckrakers. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. p. 195. 


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