Food safety

Dr. Harvey Wiley, working from within the government with a Poison Squad, uncovered enough evidence of the dangers posed by unsafe food to lead to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906), which forced manufacturers to use safe ingredients and honest labels.

The Jungle (1906), by muckraker Upton Sinclair, sickened the public with its description of what went on inside the food industry and led to the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. To protect people from being poisoned by their own food, federal inspectors visited packing houses. Like the novel

Ramona (see Chapter 14), which intended to save American Indians but ended up initially saving Mission architecture, The Jungle was intended to save workers but ended up saving the food they processed.

Achievements of the Progressives

Forward-thinking attempts to clean up politics became a cause for both political parties. The Progressives (1910) succeeded because they weren't marginalized as dangerous radicals: Progressives were middle- and even upper-class reformers working to fix the system from within.


Question: Why were the Progressives so successful?

Answer: They were respectable middle-class reformers with popular support.

To get around the influence of political bosses, Progressives introduced the initiative system so that voters could propose and vote on new laws without going through the legislature. The still-ongoing attempts to limit campaign contributions and the corruption they can bring began when the Progressives passed campaign financing laws in a few states in the early 1900s. Previously, the rule in elections had been that voters marked ballots in public, and party bosses could see how people voted; the early Progressives made the secret Australian ballot the national standard. Often-corrupt state legislatures got to choose U.S. senators until Progressives passed the Seventeenth Amendment (1913), which mandated the election of senators by the people.

In the key Supreme Court case of Muller v. Oregon (1908), Progressive attorney Louis Brandeis convinced the court that states have a right to protect employees in the workplace; in Muller, that meant protecting women from having to work more than 10 hours a day. Brandeis went on to become one of the first Jewish high officials when he joined the Supreme Court in 1914.

The tragic industrial Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911) claimed the lives of almost 150 women workers but led to legal regulation of workplaces. By the time of World War I, more than half of the states had laws providing some worker's compensation to people injured on the job. Prohibition was also a popular cause; by 1914 more than half of the country had prohibited the sale of liquor.

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