Group portrait of Socialist Party members gathered for the Socialist Convention and Eugene V. Debs picnic in Canton, Ohio, 1918.
During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, socialism attracted many Americans. Socialists called for an economic system that removed greed from the people. Rather than working to attain the most wealth, socialists hoped that Americans would work together to benefit the common good. They also desired public ownership of utilities and transportation systems. Socialists did not necessarily want to make all Americans politically, economically, and socially equal. Rather, they wanted to have Americans, as a whole, working together to benefit all Americans. Some Americans would be deserving of more than other citizens, but no American should prosper by denying his/her fellow citizen the basic necessities of life.
The socialists' message became especially welcome among the working class, including factory workers who endured harsh working and living conditions. In 1912, as many as one-third of the American Federation of Labor's members favored socialism. Socialism became so popular that the Socialist Party of America originated. Among its more prominent members was Eugene V. Debs. Another prominent supporter of socialism during this era was author and muckraker Upton Sinclair. Sinclair hoped to convince Americans through his novels, including The Jungle and Oil!, to adopt socialism. Due to socialism's increasing popularity, both the Republican and the Democratic Parties reached out to workers and sought to improve working conditions.
In Ohio, socialists attained limited success. Progressives, who sought to improve the working and living conditions of Americans, originated in the state before the socialists gained a foothold. In 1911, socialists managed to gain control of the mayoral seats of a few communities, including Canton, Lima, Barberton, and Lorain, but socialism's popularity quickly declined in the state, as many prominent socialists opposed United States involvement in World War I. Socialists remained active in the United States through the 1920s and 1930s, but their numbers quickly dwindled during this same period.