Political corruption, corporate greed, sickness and death from tainted foods—today's headlines may shock us, but in fact they echo the scandalous exposés of the past century. Then, as now, it was the news media—not government agencies, not lawyers, and not the police—who frequently brought the truth to light.
Journalism has been dubbed the unofficial fourth branch of government—serving as the watchdog of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches and helping to rebalance the division of power when things get out of whack. Using their constitutional freedom of the press, journalists investigate, expose, and urge reform. They give voice to the concerns of citizens and shed light on the nation's faults.
In the early 20th century, when investigative journalism was just getting started—Ida Tarbell Tarbell exposed the spreading tentacles of the monopoly of Standard Oil, while Upton Sinclair portrayed the unseemly realities of high-volume meatpacking, and Lincoln Steffens blew the lid off civic corruption. Theodore Roosevelt dubbed such writers "muckrakers" because he felt many of them had crossed the line of decency and were only raking up muck, dirt, wrongdoing, and scandal. His negative term stuck even as investigative writing continued.
Award-winning author Ann Bausum's sweeping narrative paints a vivid picture of the American news media during the Progressive era, showing how muckrakers created an essential democratic tradition that endures to this day.
Pronunciation. The "rake" syllable in "muckrakers" is pronounced with the same long-a sound as the rake we use in our gardens; it references a different sort of raking tool—one that could be used to muck out an animal stall.
Origins. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt popularized the use of the term "muckrakers" to describe the dogged pursuits of investigative journalists. He borrowed the term from the 19th-century morality tale The Pilgrim's Progress. One of the allegorical characters in John Bunyan's book is the Man with the Muck-rake, or the person who rakes the soiled material from an animal stall. In Bunyan's tale, this character is so intent on his work that, as Roosevelt put it, he "refuses to see aught that is lofty" in the world.
During his April 14th speech in Washington, D.C., Roosevelt accused the era's investigative journalists of focusing too intently on the world's problems, just as the Man with the Muck-rake had concentrated only on cleaning the dirty barn. "The man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes save of his feats with the muckrake, speedily becomes, not a help to society, not an incitement to good, but one of the most potent forces of evil," said the President.
Roosevelt's criticism helped to end the work of that generation's investigative journalists. It became easy to dismiss someone who wrote about a controversial matter or shocking revelation as a muckraker. The pejorative term has come to be seen as a badge of honor by the journalists who persist in investigating the injustices and scandals of their day.
It might surprise readers to learn how many tasks go into the making of a nonfiction children's book. Writing is just one of many steps in the process. Another one—and one of my favorites—is photo research. In most cases I'm responsible for finding the photos that illustrate my books. I love to search for rarely published images and other photographs that will add to the readers' appreciation of history. Even though more and more images may be found today using the Internet, I still visit archives in person, too. When I'm on site, I can view photos that have not yet been digitized or posted online. Plus there's something magical about spending hours with historical photos. I can't help but absorb details from the time period that enrich my connections to a topic.
One of the best archives to visit—either in person or on line—is the Prints and Photographs Reading Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I found this collection particularly helpful while researching images for Muckrakers. In addition to working off-site through the library's website, I spent several days on site, too. I combed through file cabinets, explored the contents of archival boxes, and searched databases in my quest to find just the right illustrations for the book. I made similar searches at other archives, either online or in person. In the end I reviewed hundreds of potential images in order to find the 50-plus selections that appear in the book.
You can conduct photo research at the Library of Congress by following the accompanying tutorial. Just choose the tab at right marked CLASSROOM SUGGESTIONS—PHOTO RESEARCH to find step-by-step directions for your own searches.
In the Classroom—photo research. Have students conduct research for photographs using the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. Students may identify a topic, develop a list of search terms, and explore the online database. Topics could be historical, thematic (e.g. billboard images), or genre-based (e.g. political cartoons). Discuss issues of photo ownership and copyright. Many images, particularly pre-1920, are in the public domain, but others are protected by copyright. Rights, when known, are included in the records for Library of Congress images. Any images available for off-site download are in the public domain. (A blue border surrounds these images.)
When I conduct photo research, I develop a list of search terms related to my topic. I've taken some of those search terms and created a series of searches you can conduct from your computer. If you follow these steps, you'll be retracing some of my own research steps for Muckrakers. A research note at the end of this section explains how to download images and warns about possible copyright protection.
Step one. Click here to access the search engine page of the Prints and Photographs Reading Room from the Library of Congress.
Step two. Enter the search term "muckrakers" in the "Search All" data cell and click "GO."
Step three. Click on the title of a brief record (any blue text) to find out more information about an image.
SEARCH TWO—IDA M. TARBELL
Researchers using the Prints and Photographs database at on-site computers are able to view an enlargement of any image by clicking on the illustration—that convenience provides one more reason to visit the Library of Congress in person. Some images may be enlarged off site, too. This next search will lead you to enlargeable images. (Note: Enlargeable images are available as downloads, too.)
Step one. Return to the Prints and Photographs search engine page.
Step two. Enter the search term "Ida M. Tarbell" in the "Search All" data cell and click "GO."
Step three. Note the summary of image availability that appears directly above the search results. Narrow your search by clicking on the middle option: "Larger image available anywhere."
Step four. Click on any displayed image or its underlined blue title to reach the full record for that image.
Step five. Click the boxed red plus sign or the "View Larger" text link to see an enlarged view of an item. Links displayed above the illustration indicate file format and size options for downloading the item.
SEARCH THREE—MEAT PACKING
When I searched for illustrations at the Library of Congress for Muckrakers, I had the most fun finding the images that illustrate chapter four of the book "Labor and Lamb Chops." Well, maybe not fun exactly because photos from a meatpacking slaughterhouse are never pleasant, but I enjoyed the challenge of tracking down the most evocative and stirring illustrations. I found a lot of photos of sausage making, and some of my favorites illustrate this section of my web site. You may recognize at least one of them from my book. Would you like to see more? Follow the steps below.
Step one. Return to the Prints and Photographs search engine page.
Step two. Enter the two-word search term "meat packing" in the "Search All" data cell and click "GO."
Step three. So many records appear that you will need to page through several screens of results to see them all.
Step four, alternate viewing options. Click on one of the other "View" options that are listed in the gray search results bar to see your search displayed in customized formats. "Gallery" displays slightly larger views of the images and minimizes the brief record text for items. If you hover your cursor over an image, additional caption info appears. "Grid" displays photos only for up to 100 images per screen. Hover your cursor over an image, and it appears with an enlarged display and caption information. "Slide" sets up a slide show for all search results. The slide show is interactive. For example, you can click on a thumbnail-sized image to see its larger display. Or you can click on a full-sized image and a tab will appear with caption information and a link to the image's full record. Although many of these records display on-line images, some may be labeled "Group of Images." Many of these images have not yet been digitized; we would have to visit the Library of Congress in person to view them.
SEARCH FOUR—STEREOSCOPIC SLIDES
I spent a lot of time at the Library of Congress looking at a type of picture called a stereoscopic slide. These images were popular a hundred or more years ago as a form of entertainment—before radio, movies, and television. The slides were thick pieces of cardboard printed with two parallel views of the same scene taken with a special camera. By using a customized viewing device, the images appear to merge into a single three-dimensional picture. A century ago, homes might have one viewing device and a stack of slides—everything from pictures of famous people to humorous scenes to landmarks to current events—even scenes of the Chicago meatpacking industry.
Each image in the Library of Congress is identified by one or more numbers. You may use these numbers to view online images of Chicago meatpacking stereoscopic slides. Use the following steps to find them. Note that I've added a title to help identify the content of each number; the title will not be used during the search.
Step one. Return to the Prints and Photographs search engine page.
Step two. Copy and paste one of the following record numbers into the "Search All" data cell, then click "GO."
Bird's-eye view of Union Stock Yards (1906): LC-USZ62-106686
Dressing beef on great moving platform (1909): LC-USZ62-107022
Oil presses, margarine department (1893): LC-USZ62-107024
Jewish rabbi killing kosher beef (1909): LC-USZ62-113948
Manicure in the canning department (1909): LC-USZ62-80737
Sometimes only half of a stereoscopic slide appears:
A view of the feed lot (1906): LC-USZ62-55723
In the heart of the Great Union Stock Yards (1909): LC-USZ62-97324
Labeling cans (1909): LC-USZ62-97322
Beef-cutting machine (1909): LC-USZ62-97316
Alternative search. Enter the group record number for all of these images, LOT 11985, to find a summary screen of these and other images from this collection.
You might wonder why people wanted to collect such gruesome photos a century or more ago. At that time the meatpacking plants in Chicago seemed like a marvel of technology. It was hard to imagine that so many animals and workers could be part of the same colossal organization. Only a few decades earlier, butchering had been a family or neighborhood enterprise. People were curious to see how the Chicago meatpackers converted this one-person job into an assembly line of work stations. Tourists in Chicago took guided tours of the meatpacking plants. Stereoscopic slides served as souvenirs of the visit. They offered folks back home and other non-travelers a way to "visit" the packinghouses, too.
SEARCH FIVE—THE SKY IS THE LIMIT
You can use these same search techniques to research your own image needs. If you want to find out more information about a published image from the Library of Congress, you can look up the image using its reproduction number. Some illustrations appear with credit information as part of the adjacent caption. Others are credited in a summary for the entire book.
Downloading images from the web. You may download images from the Prints and Photographs collection by clicking on any of the displayed file size options. Larger files (measured in megabytes or "mb") are designed for professional reproduction. Smaller files (measured in kilobytes or "kb") are more typical of the size of a personal snapshot.
Public domain vs. copyrighted material. Virtually all of the images that display off-site on the Prints and Photographs' website are in the public domain, that is they may be used by anyone without compensating the person who created the material. Many display the phrase "No known restrictions on publication" in the "Rights Advisory" category of the image record, signaling that they are in the public domain. It is advisable to read other noted facts about an image to see if restrictions are described. Some images may have been copyrighted when they originated, but those copyrights were not renewed. Generally images with restrictions can only be downloaded in person at the Library of Congress.
Illustrations credits. Even if an image is in the public domain, you should still cite the source of where it can be found. That way other researchers can benefit from your discoveries, and viewers can evaluate the credibility of your illustration. Items obtained through the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Catalog should be credited with this phrase—"Reproduced courtesy the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division"—followed by the reproduction number of the item. You will find this number listed as part of the image's full record.
Feedback. If you encounter problems with these directions or would like to share comments from your search, please contact me with the details. Thanks!
A How-to View of Investigative Journalism
A program for teens and adults
by Ann Bausum
What is muckraking, anyway? And how did early muckrakers contribute to the development of investigative journalism? I'll profile muckrakers from three centuries and introduce key elements of investigative journalism. The program builds on my book Muckrakers. Audience members will gain an appreciation for how journalists contribute to a healthy democracy and how muckraking has faded in and out of fashion throughout our nation's history. Illustrated with historical images.
Length: 40 minutes, 10-15 minutes for questions.
Technical requirements: LCD projector and projection screen.
Audience feedback on this program:
"Ann does an excellent job of relating the past historical events to what is happening today. This helps the students answer 'Why do I have to know this?' The muckraker presentation fit not only with the U.S. history content that our teachers were currently teaching but the Grapes of Wrath [English curriculum] as well."
—High school librarian, New York
"The author of With Courage and Cloth....dishes up an equally compelling account of the birth of investigative journalism in this country....Bausum details instances of corporate greed, government corruption, and disregard for the health of workers and consumers that will seem eerily familiar to today's (well-informed) readers....Budding journalists and social activists in particular can't help but be inspired by the good works of these dedicated, intrepid reporters."
—School Library Journal
November 1, 2007
"....The well-captioned, black-and-white illustrations, mainly photos, are sometimes reproduced with a sepia tone. The extensive back matter includes a detailed timeline illustrated with 12 baseball-card-sized boxes giving biographical information on significant muckrakers....Clearly written, this [book] offers a very readable and informative introduction to American muckrakers."
November 1, 2007
Golden Kite Award
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
Nonfiction Award Book
2008 Orbis Pictus Awards
National Council of Teachers of English
2008 Notable Children's Book
American Library Association
Tofte/Wright Children's Literature Award
Council for Wisconsin Writers
Cooperative Children's Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Interactive museum of news
Reports of "the news that didn't make the news"
Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century edited by Carl Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2000.
The Muckrakers edited by Arthur Weinberg and Lila Weinberg, University of Illinois Press, 2001.
• Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism
• Published 2007
• National Geographic Society
• 112 pages, hardcover
• More than 50 archival photos, closing chapters and back matter present the broader context of investigative journalism including a timeline and pantheon of muckrakers and muckraking, research notes, citations, resource guide, bibliography, index
• ISBN 978-1-4263-0137-7