It seems that there are skeletons in every country’s closet, and America is no different to others when it come to pictures that they may rather not show. The pictures in this collection show very dark times in the history of the country, where children as young as 5 years old were made to work in fields and factories.
Lewis Hine, an investigative photographer for the National Child Labour Committee, spend a great part of his life travelling around the country taking pictures of child labour in different states. The collection was taken between 1908 and 1924, and shows the incredibly harsh conditions the children were working in.
Many children suffered broken bones and stunted growth as a result of being put to work at such early ages. The collection is incredibly graphic, and also very disturbing, with children of all ages dressed in tatters.
After the boom in industry at the end of the 19th century, employers needed more people to work for them, and so turned to children, who because they were small and supposedly full of energy, made perfect workers.
Hine would have to pose as a bible salesman or fire inspector to sneak into factories where he could capture images of the children. There was always the risk of getting caught, and beaten if he was discovered.
Josie and Bertha, both six, and 10-year-old Sophie all shucked regularly at Maggioni Canning Company in Port Royal, South Carolina. They were captured in February 1911 by photographer Lewis Hine, who worked to document the harsh working conditions of youngsters in a bid to change labor laws
Two young workers with dirt-stained faces and tattered clothing were put to work at glass works in Indiana in August 1908. Photographer Mr Hine would hide his camera and dress up as anything from a Bible salesman to a postcard salesman or a fire inspector to sneak into factories – risking being beaten by managers if they discovered him
Charlie Foster had a steady job in the Merrimack Mills in Huntsville, Alabama at ten-years-old. His father admitted that the youngster could not read, but he still put him to work at the mill (Pictured in August 1913)
Vance, a fifteen-year-old ‘trapper boy’ was in charge of opening and closing this door for several years at a coal mine in West Virginia. Most of the time, he spent sitting idly in the darkness, waiting for the cars to come. He earned $0.75 a day for 10 hours of work. The words and flying birds sketched on the door next to him went noticed until the photo was developed due to the impenetrable gloom of the cellar
Three young cigar makers, thought to be under the age of 14, took a break from work while one of them puffed away on a cigar at Englahardt & Co. in Tampa, Florida. Work was slack and youngsters were not being employed much. Bosses todl the photographer that in busy times many small boys and girls are employed
A ‘dinner toter’ stood waiting for gates to open at the Eagle and Phoenix Mill in Columbus, Georgia, in 1913. Many smaller children were paid by the week to carry food, sometimes ten or more a day to the mill, and often help tend to the machines, which ran at noon, and so learn the work. A teacher admitted that mothers expected their children to learn this way, long before they were of proper age
Little Fannie, who was just seven years old and 48 inches high, helped her sister at Elk Mills in Fayetteville, Tennessee, in 1910. Her sister (pictured in the photo) told the photographer: ‘Yes, she helps me right smart. Not all day but all she can. Yes, she started with me at six this morning.’ These two belonged to a family of 19 children
This group of eight and 10-year-old siblings were gathering beets on a farm near Sterling, Colorado, from 5am till 7pm on rush days (pictured in October 1915). Their father simply said of their back-breaking labor: ‘We have to get done’
Amos, six, and Horace, four, were made to work by their father John Neal at a tobacco farm in Albaton, Kentucky, day after day from ‘sun-up to sun-down’, worming and suckering. Mr Neal, who rented land, said they worked as steadily as adults
Nan de Gallant, a nine-year-old cartoner worked with her mother and two sisters at Seacoast Canning Company in Eastport, Maine. One sister made $7 in one day, while during the rush season, the women begin work at 7am, and at times work until midnight. The family came from Perry in Maine to Eastport just for the summer months, while Nan’s brother worked on boats
A group of young boys working as newspaper vendors stood on the street as they posed for a photo at 5am on Sunday May 8, 1910 in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1938, after a series of failed or retracted laws, the Committee supported the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibited any interstate commerce of goods made through oppressive child labor
A messenger boy, who claimed to be 15, leaned against a bicycle as he posed for a photo. He was working for Mackay Telegraph Company – a major operator of telegraph networks in the US prior to its consolidation with Western Union in 1943
Jewel and Harold Walker, who were aged six and five respectively, picked 20 to 25 pounds of cotton a day in Comanche County, Oklahoma. Their father revealed he had come up with new tactics to motivate them. ‘I promised em a little wagon if they’d pick steady, and now they have half a bagful in just a little while,’ he revealed
A ten-year-old textile mill worker looked wistfully outside. The young girl had been working at the mill for more than a year in Lincolnton, North Carolina (pictured in November 1908)
Marie Costa, a basket seller, clung to a lamp post in the street in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August 1908. She had been working all day when she was captured at 9pm with the friend and sister she persuaded to help her
A group of ‘breaker boys’ with dirt smeared on their cheeks and dishevelled clothing posed for a photo at the Pennsylvania Coal Company in Pittson in January 1911
Brown McDowell, a 12-year-old worked as an usher at the Princess Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama. He worked from 10am to 10pm and could barely read, having left school after the second grade.
A ten-year-old, who had been picking cranberries four years, was pictured at White’s Bog in Browns Mills, New Jersey in September 2010. Despite it being the fourth week of school, many youngsters were expected to work there for two more weeks. Many suffered broken bones and curvature of the spine because of the long hours and unsafe conditions
A street gang were pictured leaning against a wall and smoking during a break from their duties in Springfield, Massachusetts, in June 1916. By 1915, the National Child Labor Committee’s efforts to make states adopt working regulations reached a federal level. A year later, Congress agreed to pass legislation to protect children and restrictions were placed on the employment of children aged under 14 in factories and shops
Mary, who was just four-years-old, shucked two pots of oysters a day at Dunbar, Louisiana, and looked after her baby sibling when she was not working. Her boss said that next year Mary would start working full-time like the rest of them and revealed that her mother was the fastest shucker there. She earned $1.50 a day and worked part of the time with her sick baby in her arms
Two young boys dangled their legs over the side of a window as they tucked into sandwiches during their lunch break at Economy Glass Works in Morgantown, West Virginia. The photographer said there were many more child workers like this pair inside