Samuel Hopkins Adams was born January 26, 1871 in Dunkirk, the son of Minister Myron Adams and Hester Rose. Hopkins entered Hamilton College in Clinton, New York in 1887. From 1891 to 1929, he was a reporter for the New York Sun and then joined McClure’s Magazine, where he gained a reputation as a muckraker for his articles on the conditions of public health in the United States.
In a series of eleven articles he wrote for Collier’s Weekly in 1905, “The Great American Fraud,” Adams exposed many of the false claims made about patent medicines, pointing out that in some cases these medicines were damaging the health of the people using them. The series had a huge impact and led to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.
In 1911 the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of falsifications referred only to the ingredients of the medicine. This meant that companies were again free to make false claims about their products. Adams returned to the attack and another series of articles in Collier’s Weekly, Adams exposed the misleading advertising that companies were using to sell their products.
Adams also wrote fiction as well. “Night Bus”, one of Adams’s many magazine stories, became the basis for the film It Happened One Night. His best-known novel, Revelry (1926), based on the scandals of the Warren G. Harding administration, was later followed by Incredible Era (1939), a biography of Harding.
Among his other works are The Great American Fraud (1906), The Flying Death (1906), and the Unspeakable Perk (1916).
In the 1920s Adams wrote two novels, Flaming Youth and Unforbidden Fruit, dealing with the sexual urges of young women in the Jazz Age – these novels had a frankness that was shocking for their time, and Adams published them under the pseudonym “Warner Fabian” so that his other works would not be tainted by any scandal accruing to these novels. Both novels became best-sellers.
Adams continued to write several other books during the remainder of his life. He died in Beaufort, South Carolina on November 15, 1958.
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.