Although children had been servants and apprentices since the beginning of American industry. But during the Industrial Revolution, child labor reached new extremes and children often worked some of the most hazardous jobs in America. Naturally, these workplace hazards resulted in the injury and death of children found working in factories and mines. Why were children even working in such environments? Well, child laborers were preferred due to their small size and inability to effectively organize against their employers. Not only that, they were paid less than the adults. What more did the employers want? These unfortunate kids worked to help support their families for extremely fewer wages and were forced to forgo an education. Boys began their apprenticeship in a trade between ages ten and fourteen.
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It was only after photographs produced for the National Child Labor Committee by photographer Lewis Hine, that public and political opinion swayed on the matter, the market crashed and eventually led to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a minimum working age and standardized hours. Even then the nightmare wasn’t completely over as it had certain loopholes to it. Today, the minimal role of child labor in the United States today is probably one of the most remarkable changes in the social and economic life over the last two centuries. Take a look at these startling pictures from the time when child labor was legal in America.
A group of newsboys have a smoke during their break in St. Louis, May 1910.
An exhausted newsboy sleeps on a pile of newspapers in a stairwell in Jersey City, New Jersey, circa 1912.
A sign outside of the N.Y. Button Works factory in New York City reads: “Wanted, Small Boys,” circa 1916
A group of young girls on a break from their jobs as oyster shuckers at a seafood canning company in Port Royal, South Carolina, in 1911. From left to right: Josie (6 years old), Bertha (6 years old), and Sophie (10 years old).