What Events Marked the Progressive Era?
Election of Robert La Follette
- Robert La Follette, a Republican and one of the most dynamic Progressives of his time, was elected governor of Wisconsin in 1900, and began an era of reform by passing laws to regulate businesses and corporations. He also weakened the influence of political parties by creating direct primary elections and imposing campaign spending limits. In addition, La Follette developed state commissions to guide the regulation of railroads, transportation, civil service and the environment.
Theodore Roosevelt Assumes the Presidency
- The 1901 assassination of President William McKinley by an anarchist elevated vice-president Theodore Roosevelt into the White House. Roosevelt, a forward-thinking man who agreed with many Progressive ideals, began a presidency that would lead to the regulation of giant industrial corporations to prevent them from forming conglomerations. He became known as a "trust buster," filing a series of lawsuits against businesses such as Standard Oil which he felt was becoming too large and stifling free market competition. Roosevelt also created the departments of commerce and labor to increase the government's oversight over interstate commerce.
Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act
- The Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, was passed by the government due in large part to the published works of investigative journalists known as "muckrakers." These journalists included Ida Tarbell who documented the abuses of big businesses such as Standard Oil, and Upton Sinclair who wrote "The Jungle," a celebrated 1906 book that painted a bleak portrait of horrible conditions and unsanitary products being made in the Chicago meatpacking industry. The public outcry lead directly to President Roosevelt pushing Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act which provided for federal inspection of meat products, and the Meat Inspection Act which required all animals to pass inspection by the Drug Administration and established minimum standards of cleanliness.
Dissolution of Standard Oil
- On May 5, 1911, the Supreme Court ordered that Standard Oil be dissolved for violating the tenets of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Standard Oil had for many years been the enemy of Progressives for what they perceived as the company's rapacious business practices, anti-competitive philosophy and treatment of their oil field workers. This ruling was a seminal event in the Progressive era in that it dissolved the symbol of American corporate greed into smaller, more controllable entities, and inspired those who had fought to curb the company's excesses to keep agitating for social and corporate reform.