Sue Young Histories

Upton Sinclair 1878 – 1968

October 20, 2008

Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. 1878 – 1968, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning prolific American author who wrote over 90 books in many genres and was widely considered to be one of the best investigators advocating socialist views.

Albert Abrams, the inventor of the Radionics machine and an advocate of homeopathy (Dana Ullman, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy. (North Atlantic Books, 2007). Page 73), was defended by James Barr, Upton Sinclair, Arthur Conan Doyle and many others.

From Martín Gardner, Fads and Fallacies: In the Name of Science, (Courier Dover Publications, 1957). Page 207.  See also Anon, Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 78, Part 2, (American Medical Association, 1922). Page 1334. See also Anon, The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 218, (Curtis Publishing Company, 1946). See also Anon, Humanist, Volumes 75-76, (Rationalist Press Association Limited, 1960).  In addition to support from Upton Sinclair, two other advocates of Albert Abrams were James Barr (a past President of the British Medical Association) and Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes detective novels).

James Barr duplicated some of Albert Abrams’s experiments and described him as one of the greatest medical geniuses of his time…

Sinclair was Albert Abrams’s strongest advocate in part because Sinclair had interviewed hundreds of health professionals and patients who used or were treated by Radionics diagnosis and treatment.

Sinclair asserted: “[Albert Abrams] has made the most revolutionary discovery of this or any other age. I venture to stake whatever reputation I ever hope to have that he has discovered the great secret of the diagnosis and cure of all major diseases.”

Further, Sinclair claimed that Albert Abrams had treated “over fifteen thousand people, and my investigation convinces me he has cured over ninety five percent.”

From Upton Sinclair achieved considerable popularity in the first half of the 20th century. He gained particular fame for his 1906 muckraking 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 in Baltimore, Maryland to Upton Beall Sinclair and Priscilla Harden. His father was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism shadowed his son’s childhood. From an early age, he had a keen interest in religion and literature; his two great heroes were Jesus Christ and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In 1888, the Sinclair family moved to The Bronx. Sinclair married his first wife, Meta Fuller, in 1900.

An early success was the Civil War novel Manassas, written in 1903 and published a year later. It was originally projected as the opening book of a trilogy, but the success of The Jungle caused him to drop his plans, although he did revise Manassas decades later by “moderating some of the exuberance of the earlier version”.

In 1906, Sinclair created a socialist commune, named Helicon Home Colony, in Englewood, New Jersey with proceeds from his novel The Jungle. One of those who joined was the novelist and playwright Sinclair Lewis, who worked there as a janitor. The commune was destroyed in a 1907 fire.

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

Helicon Hall burned down in 1907, apparently from arson. Afterward, Sinclair moved to Arden, Delaware, where many Georgist, Socialist, and Communist “Freethinkers” lived, including Mother Bloor’s son Hamilton “Buzz” Ware. Some say that he worked in a tree house behind his home during these years.

Around 1911, Sinclair’s wife ran off with the poet Harry Kemp (later known as the Dunes Poet of Provincetown, Massachusetts). Within a few years, Sinclair moved to Monrovia, California, where he founded the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1920s.

Sinclair went on to run unsuccessfully for Congress twice on the Socialist ticket: in 1920, for the United States 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 would later call “the most difficult ethical problem of my life,” when he was told in confidence 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 also 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 Sinclair gained its 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.

Robert A. Heinlein, the science fiction author, was deeply involved in Sinclair’s campaign, a point which Heinlein tried to obscure from later biographies, as Heinlein tried to keep his personal politics separate from his public image as an author.

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. According to Sinclair, a 34 pound table was once levitated eight feet over his head by a young psychic in a seance.

After Sinclair’s first wife left him for another man, he married Mary Craig Kimbrough (1883 - 1961), a woman who was later tested for psychic abilities. After her death, Sinclair married a third time, to Mary Elizabeth Willis (1882 - 1967).

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 Monrovia, California, is now 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. Sinclair believed that the main point of The Jungle was lost on the public, overshadowed by his descriptions of the unhealthy conditions in packing plants. The public health concerns dealt with in The Jungle were not as significant to Sinclair as the human tragedy lived by his main character and other workers in the plants.

His main goal for the book was to demonstrate the inhumane conditions of the wage earner under capitalism, not to inspire public health reforms in how the packing was done. Indeed, Sinclair lamented the effect of his book and the public uproar that resulted:

“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Still, the fame and fortune he gained from publishing The Jungle enabled him to write books on almost every issue of social injustice in the Twentieth Century.

Sinclair is known for his principle: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

He was the founder of the End Poverty in California (EPIC) movement.

Between 1940 and 1953, Sinclair wrote the World’s End series of 11 novels about Lanny Budd, the “red” son of an American arms manufacturer who was a socialite, an art expert and an acquaintance of Hermann Göring and Adolf Hitler.

They cover in sequence much of the political history of the Western world (particularly Europe and America), in the first half of the twentieth century. Almost totally forgotten today, they were all bestsellers upon publication and were published in 21 countries. The third book in the series, Dragon’s Teeth, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943.

Long out of print, the World’s End or Lanny Budd series, have recently been re-issued by Simon Publications. For technical reasons, each original volume is issued in two parts, forming a 22-volume set. The series was originally published by Viking Press in New York and T. Werner Laurie in London.


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