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Early Day Whistle Blowers

December 11, 2002

Almanac Transcript

Early day whistle blowers make the news this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I’m Steven Knoche Kite.

In the late 1800s there was a movement among journalists, writers and some politicians to publicize, increase awareness of and eradicate the evils of society. This particular group of people in the 1890s and early 1900s, an era of great industrialization and immigration, began to look around and notice the downside of rampant unregulated capitalism. Children worked long hours in dangerous conditions, immigrants and the poor were crowded into unsanitary and unsafe city slums. Corrupt business practices allowed for the development of unfair monopolies and disregard for the environment led to poisoned water and air and the wasting of nonrenewable resources.

Beginning most notably in 1890 with the Lincoln Steffens work, Shame of the City, exposing the horrendous living conditions found in most large U.S. cities these journalists began producing work after work, either in monograph form or serialized in magazines, exposing the nasty underbelly of life in Gilded Age America. Upton Sinclair produced The Jungle in 1906 revealing the unsanitary conditions of meat packing, Jacob Riis produced How the Other Half Lives, a volume of photographs revealing the cities slums and tenements and the residents therein. By exposing such corruption and filth these journalists were not only putting themselves in danger but they were also reminding their fellow Americans every day that these conditions could not be ignored or swept under a rug. The name "Muckraker" was given to these people, some say, by Theodore Roosevelt, due to their practice of gathering up and exposing all of the muck of modern society.

One of the most famous of all the Muckrakers, Ida Tarbell, produced in 1902 a work, The History of the Standard Oil Company, revealing the illegal and immoral practices of the Rockefeller business empire. Tarbell’s work, the result of years of research has been called variously “the greatest book on business every written” and “one of the greatest works of investigative journalism ever produced in the United States.”

It was in this week of 1918 that Ms. Tarbell appeared before a packed house in the College Auditorium on the campus of OAMC in Stillwater. The author discussed her earlier works as well as the new and timely topics of industrial efficiency and women’s rights. The venue was standing room only, and the talk as well as a reception caused quite a stir in the community. Stillwater and OAMC honoring Ida Tarbell this week on the Almanac.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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