By Lincoln Steffens
With an introduction by Daniel Kay Hertz
October 29, 2019
Lincoln Steffens’ “Tweed Days in St. Louis,” published in McClure’s magazine in October 1902, is considered the first work of muckraking journalism, exposing corruption between businessmen, politicians, police officers and other municipal actor, as well as how apathetic citizens allow machine politics to proceed unfettered. The article also highlights residents who do fight back, including civil rights lawyer Joseph W. Folk and the workers involved in the St. Louis Streetcar Strike of 1900.
“Tweed Days” was so successful that Steffens traveled on to Minneapolis to report “The Shame of Minneapolis,” which appeared in the same 1903 issue of McClure’s as another muckraking classic, Ida Tarbell’s The History of the Standard Oil Company. Steffens would go on to expose machine politics in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City.
The series was enormously successful: he “has done for American cities what De Tocqueville did for the country over a hundred years ago,” wrote editor William Allen White, and Steffens became a celebrity; a cigar was named after him. In 1904, McClure’s published the series as a book, The Shame of the Cities, which remains stubbornly timely and prescient more than a century later.
Lincoln Steffens (1866–1936) was one of the leading muckraking journalists of the early twentieth century. Born in San Francisco, he traveled all over the world writing about progressive politics and ideas before returning to California at the end of his life.