• “Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker, South Pittston, Pennsylvania,” 1911. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker. S. Pittston, Pa
    • Creator
    • Department of Commerce and Labor. Children's Bureau. 1912-1913.
    • Rights
    • Unrestricted.
    • Partner
    • National Archives and Records Administration
    • Contributing Institution
    • National Archives at College Park - Still Pictures

  • A breaker boy waiting in the mine for a coal delivery, 1911. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

    More info
    Select an item:
    A lonely job. Waiting all alone in the dark for a trip to come through, 01/07/1911
    • Creator
    • Department of Commerce and Labor. Children's Bureau. 1912-1913.
    • Description
    • A lonely job. Waiting all alone in the dark for a trip to come through. It was so damp that Willie said he had to be doctoring all the time for his cough. A short distance from here the gas was pouring in so rapidly that it made a great torch when ... more
      A lonely job. Waiting all alone in the dark for a trip to come through. It was so damp that Willie said he had to be doctoring all the time for his cough. A short distance from here the gas was pouring in so rapidly that it made a great torch when the foreman lit it. Willie has been working here for 4 months 500 feet down the shaft. Walls have been whitewashed to make it lighter. Jan. 16 I found Willie at home sick. His mother admitted he is only 13 years old, will be 14 next July. She said that 4 months ago the mine boss told the father to take Willie to work, and they obtained a certificate from Squire Barrett. (The only thing the squire could do was to make Willie out to be 16 years old.) Willie's father and brothers are miners, and the home is that of a frugal German family. S. Pittston, Pa. less
    • Rights
    • Unrestricted.
    • Partner
    • National Archives and Records Administration
    • Contributing Institution
    • National Archives at College Park - Still Pictures

  • A child worker in the Richmond Spinning Mills in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1910. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

    More info
    Select an item:
    A regular worker (doffer) in Richmond Spinning Mills. Photo during working hours. Chattanooga, Tenn
    • Creator
    • Department of Commerce and Labor. Children's Bureau. 1912-1913.
    • Rights
    • Unrestricted.
    • Partner
    • National Archives and Records Administration
    • Contributing Institution
    • National Archives at College Park - Still Pictures

Mills, Factories, and Mines

The American Industrial Revolution during the second half of the nineteenth century created ample demand for low-skill jobs. Income disparity was rampant, especially in the crowded cities of the Northeast, and children were expected to contribute to their family’s household income. Factory work for children was not isolated in the urban North, however. Children worked, often alongside their parents, in the glass factories of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, textile mills of the South, and oyster canneries of the Gulf Coast.

In fact, positions existed specifically for childrentasks which were designed to take advantage of their small size or to compensate for it. Coal mines employed children to work in the coal breaker, an area outside of the mine where coal was sorted and graded. Known as “breaker boys,” these children would work for ten to twelve hours a day separating slate from coal.

Factory and mine work kept children out of school and also put them at great physical risk. The long hours and physical demands of monotonous manufacturing work threatened to impair children’s development, as did the hazardous environment that they labored in. Spinning machinery, exceedingly high temperatures, and toxic fumes were common features of mills and factories.