Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936) was an American journalist best known for his "muckraker" exposé, The Shame of the Cities (1904).
He was born in San Francisco on April 6, 1866. His father, Joseph Steffens, was a successful businessman. His mother, Elizabeth Symes, was an Englishwoman.
The family moved to Sacramento when Steffens was four, and it was there that he spent most of his childhood. After graduating from a military academy, he enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley. Steffens completed his degree in 1889 and set off for Germany to study philosophy with Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig. After subsequently studying psychology with the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in Paris, Steffens moved to New York City in 1892.
Steffens began his career in journalism at the New York Evening Post. While covering Wall Street for the Post, he soon became aware of an enormous corrupt "System" of collaborating criminals, police, and politicians.
In 1901, Steffens became managing editor at McClure's Magazine. Beginning with the article "Tweed Days in St. Louis," he soon became known as a muckraking journalist who exposed public corruption. A collection of these articles appeared in book form as The Shame of the Cities in 1904. This was followed by the volumes The Traitor State (1905) and The Struggle for Self-Government (1906).
In 1906 Steffens established the journal The American Magazine, together with Ida Tarbell and Ray Stannard Baker. These journalists were America's three most famous muckrakers.
Initially hopeful that his exposés would provoke fundamental reforms, Steffens became disillusioned when little was done. He wrote "An Exposition of the Sovereign Political Power of Organized Business," but it seemed to have little effect. His wife died in 1911, leaving him further distraught.
Steffens moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, where he met other writers and artists enthusiastic about progressive causes. In 1914 and 1915 he covered the Mexican Revolution, and he began to view revolution as a necessary means for reformation. Steffens traveled to the Soviet Union in 1919, and he admired Vladimir Lenin and what had been accomplished through the Russian Revolution.
Steffens famously said in regards to what he had witnessed in Russia: "I have seen the future, and it works."
The best-selling Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens appeared in 1931. It was widely read until becoming less popular during the Red Scare period (1947-1957).
Steffens died of heart failure on August 9, 1936. A collection of his newspaper articles, Lincoln Steffens Speaking, appeared posthumously in 1936.