Sinclair, Upton: Writer Profile

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) was a known novelist and social crusader from California, who pioneered the type of journalism known as “muckraking.”

A prolific author, he wrote over 90 books in many genres and was widely considered to be one of the best investigators advocating socialist views and supporting anarchist causes. His best-known novel was “The Jungle” which was an expose of the appalling and unsanitary conditions in the meat-packing industry. “The Jungle” was influential in obtaining passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Sinclair achieved popularity in the first half of the 20th century. He gained particular fame for his 1906 novel The Jungle, which dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry and caused a public uproar that partly contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906.

Sinclair was born on September 20, 1878 in Baltimore, Maryland and later, in 1888, moved to New York City. An early success was the Civil War novel Manassas, written in 1903 and published a year later. The success of The Jungle caused him to drop his plans for a trilogy, although he did revise Manassas decades later by “moderating some of the exuberance of the earlier version”. The Jungle brought to light many major issues in America, such as poverty.

Sinclair created a socialist commune, Helicon Hall Colony, in 1906 with proceeds from his novel The Jungle. Among those who joined was the novelist-playwright Sinclair Lewis, who worked there as a janitor.

Sinclair made several bids for office. His first was in 1906. The Socialist Party of America sponsored his candidacy for Congress in New Jersey. He lost with just over 3% of the votes.

The colony burned down in 1907 from arson. After the fire of Helicon Hall, he moved to Arden, Delaware, where many Georgist, Socialist, and Communist “Free Thinkers” lived, including Mother Bloor's son Hamilton “Buzz” Ware. Some say that he worked in a tree house behind his home during these years.

In 1911, Sinclair's wife ran off with the poet Harry Kemp, also known as the Dunes Poet of Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Sinclair moved to Pasadena, California, where he founded the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Sinclair ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice on the Socialist ticket, in 1920 for the US House of Representatives, and in 1922 for the Senate.

Sinclair's 1928 book, Boston, created controversy by proclaiming the innocence of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists who were accused of a murder/robbery in that city. Sinclair faced what he called “the most difficult ethical problem of my life,” when he was told by Sacco and Vanzetti's former attorney Fred Moore that they were guilty and how their alibis were supposedly arranged.

However, in the letter revealing that discussion with Moore, Sinclair wrote, “I had heard that Moore was using drugs. I knew that he had parted from the defense committee after the bitterest of quarrels… Moore admitted to me that the men themselves, had never admitted their guilt to him.” Although the two men were ultimately executed, this episode has been used by some to claim that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty and that Sinclair knew that when he wrote his novel. However, this account has been disputed by Sinclair biographer Greg Mitchell.

In 1934, Sinclair made his most successful run for office, this time as a Democrat. Sinclair's platform for the California gubernatorial race of 1934, known as EPIC (End Poverty in California), galvanized the support of the Democratic Party, and he gained nomination. Conservatives in California were themselves galvanized by this, as they saw it as an attempted communist takeover of their state. They used massive political propaganda portraying Sinclair as a Communist, even as he was being portrayed by American and Soviet communists as a capitalist.

Sinclair was defeated by Frank F. Merriam in the election, and largely abandoned EPIC and politics to return to writing. However, the race of 1934 would become known as the first race to use modern campaign techniques like motion pictures.

Of his gubernatorial bids, 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.”

Aside from his political and social writings, Sinclair took an interest in psychic phenomena and experimented with telepathy, writing a book titled “Mental Radio”, published in 1930.

Sinclair married Mary Craig Kimbrough, a woman who was later tested for psychic abilities. After her death, Sinclair married a third time, to Mary Elizabeth Willis. Late in life, he moved from California to Buckeye, Arizona, and then to Bound Brook, New Jersey.

Sinclair died in 1968, and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC, next to his third wife, who died a year before him.

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


Upton Sinclair was the writer or producer of several films, including his involvement, in 1930-32, with Sergei Eisenstein, for Que Viva Mexico!, which turned into a debacle.

His 1937 novel, The Gnomobile, served as the basis of a 1967 Disney musical picture, The Gnome-Mobile.

His 1927 novel Oil! served the basis of There Will Be Blood (2007), starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. It was screenwritten, produced, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.


Courtmartialed – 1898
Saved By the Enemy – 1898
The Fighting Squadron – 1898
A Prisoner of Morro – 1898
A Soldier Monk – 1898
A Gauntlet of Fire – 1899
Holding the Fort (story) – 1899
A Soldier's Pledge – 1899
Wolves of the Navy – 1899
Springtime and Harvest – 1901
The Journal of Arthur Stirling – 1903
Off For West Point – 1903
From Port to Port – 1903
On Guard – 1903
A Strange Cruise – 1903
The West Point Rivals – 1903
A West Point Treasure – 1903
A Cadet's Honor – 1903
Cliff, the Naval Cadet – 1903
The Cruise of the Training Ship – 1903
Prince Hagan – 1903
Manassas – 1904
A Captain of Industry – 1906
The Jungle – 1906
The Millennium (four-act drama) – 1907
The Overman – 1907
The Industrial Republic – 1907
The Metropolis – 1908
The Money Changers – 1908
Samuel The Seeker – 1909
Good Health and How We Won It – 1909
The Machine (novel) – 1911
King Coal – 1917
The Profits of Religion – 1917
Jimmie Higgins – 1919
The Brass Check – 1919
100% – The Story of a Patriot – 1920
THE SPY – 1920
They Call Me Carpenter – 1922
The Goose-step A Study of American Education – 1923
The Millennium – 1924
The Goslings – 1924
Mammonart – 1925
Money Writes! – 1927
Oil! – 1927
Boston – 1928
Mental Radio – 1930
Roman Holiday – 1931
The Wet Parade – 1931
American Outpost – 1932
Upton Sinclair presents William Fox – 1933
The Epic Plan for California – 1934
I, Candidate For Governor: And How I Got Licked. – 1935
Co-op: a Novel of Living Together – 1936
No Pasaran!: a Novel of the Battle of Madrid – 1937
The Gnomobile- 1937
The Flivver King – 1937
Little Steel- 1938
Our Lady – 1938
Letters to a Millionaire – 1939
World's End – 1940
Between Two Worlds – 1941
Dragon's Teeth – 1942
Wide Is the Gate – 1943
The Presidential Agent – 1944
Dragon Harvest – 1945
A World to Win – 1946
A Presidential Mission – 1947
One Clear Call – 1948
O Shepherd, Speak! – 1949
Schenk Stefan! – 1951
The Return of Lanny Budd – 1953
The Cup of Fury – 1956
What Didymus Did – UK 1954 / It Happened to Didymus – US 1958