15 haunting photos from the early 1900s that helped end child labor in America.
When Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1896, over a million children were part of the U.S. workforce. Children were an easy choice for employers, they cost less than adults and didn’t go on strike.
By 1910 that number grew to over 2 million.
The working conditions for these children were brutal and some put in over 70 hours a week.
To call attention to America’s child labor problem, photographer Lewis Hine went undercover to document the abusive conditions in which these children toiled. His disturbing photos would go on to inspire Congress to pass legislation to curb child labor.
Child labor began to decline by 1920, and in 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. It fixed minimum ages of 16 for work during school hours, 14 for certain jobs after school, and 18 for dangerous work.
Hine’s photographs are courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress. Photo captions were written by Hine.
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Vance, a Trapper Boy, 15 years old. Has trapped for several years in a West Va. Coal mine. $.75 a day for 10 hours work. All he does is to open and shut this door: most of the time he sits here idle, waiting for the cars to come ...
Manuel, the young shrimp-picker, five years old, and a mountain of child-labor oyster shells behind him.
Young Cigarmakers in Englehardt & Co., Tampa, Florida. There boys looked under 14. Work was slack and youngsters were not being employed much. Labor told me in busy times many small boys and girls are employed. Youngsters all smoke.
Newsgirls waiting for papers. Largest girl, Alice Goldman has been selling for 4 years. Newsdealer says she uses viler language than the newsboys do.
Pin-boys in a Pittsburgh Bowling Alley. They work until late at night.
Glass works. Midnight. Location: Indiana.
Boys picking over garbage on "the Dumps." Boston.
Brown McDowell 12 year old usher in Princess Theatre. Works from 10 A.M. tp 10 P.M. Can barely read; has reached the second grade in school only.
Interior of tobacco shed, Hawthorn Farm. Girls in foreground are 8, 9, and 10 years old. The 10 yr. old makes 50 cents a day.
Rhodes Mfg. Co., Lincolnton, N.C. Spinner. A moments glimpse of the outer world Said she was 10 years old. Been working over a year.
Group of Breaker Boys in #9 Breaker, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co.
This little girl like many others in this state is so small she has to stand on a box to reach her machine. She is regularly employed as a knitter in London [i.e., Loudon?] Hosiery Mills. Said she did not know how long she had worked there.
Some samples (not all) of the children in the "Kindergarten Factory" run by the High Point and Piedmont Hosiery Mills, High Point, N.C. Every child in these photos worked; I saw them at work and I saw them go in to work at 6:30 A.M. and noons and out at 6 P.M. One morning I counted 22 of these little ones (12 years and under) going to work at about 6:15 A.M.
Part of a group of itinerant cotton pickers leaving a farm at which they had finished picking a bale and a half a day... Location: McKinney, Texas (LOC)
Colored School at Anthoston. Census 27, enrollment 12, attendance 7. Teacher expects 19 to be enrolled after work is over. "Tobacco keeps them out and they are short of hands."