Heartbreaking Photographs of Child Labour in the United States by Lewis Hine

"There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers. The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work." -- Lewis Hine, 1908

“There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers. The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work.”

— Lewis Hine, 1908

Lewis Nine Child Labor

Spinners in Pell City Cotton Mill, grouped for me by the overseer. Mr. E. A. Thompson, Supt. of the Mill, is also mayor of Pell City. Pell City, Ala, November 1910

In the early part of the 20th Century child labor in the United States was not at all uncommon. In 1904, however, a group of progressive reformers formed the National Child Labor Committee hoping to bring an end to the scourge of child labor. The number of children under the age of 15 who worked in industrial jobs for wages had increased from 1.5 million in 1890 to 2 million in 1910. Companies hired children because they could work in unskilled jobs for lower wages than adult counterparts, while their small hands often made them adept at handling small parts and tools.

The NCLC hired the photographer Lewis Hines who had felt so strongly about the abuse of children as workers he had left his schoolteaching job in New York. For the next fifteen years or so, he travelled around America documenting children working from the mines of Pennsylvania to the cotton mills in Georgia and Alabama.

It wasn’t an easy job and Hine often operated in disguise. Photo historian Daile Kaplan:

Nattily dressed in a suit, tie, and hat, Hine the gentleman actor and mimic assumed a variety of personas — including Bible salesman, postcard salesman, and industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery — to gain entrance to the workplace.

When unable to deflect his confrontations with management, he simply waited outside the canneries, mines, factories, farms, and sweatshops with his fifty pounds of photographic equipment and photographed children as they entered and exited the workplace. he was frequently threatened with violence or even death by factory police and foremen. At the time, the immorality of child labor was meant to be hidden from the public

By the 1930s few people were interested in Hine’s work, past or present, and he lost his house and applied for welfare. He died on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation. He was 66 years old and almost forgotten. However his photographs were instrumental in changing child labor laws in the United States and he is now he is recognized as a great American photographer.

Lewis Nine child labor

Spinners and doffers in Lancaster Cotton Mills. Dozens of them in this mill. Lancaster, S.C., December 1908

Lewis Hine, child labor

Young spinner in Roanoke Cotton Mills. Said 14 years old, but it is doubtful. Roanoke, Va, May 1911

Lewis Hine, child labor

Baseball team composed mostly of child laborers from a glassmaking factory. Indiana (1908)

Lewis Nine Child Labor

Francis Lance, 5 years old, 41 inches high. Sells regularly. St. Louis, Mo, May 1910

Lewis Nine Child Labor

Anne, 7 years old, and brother Vincent said he was 11. Inez, sister said 6 years old,. Smallest one not quite large enough to work. Father works in Parker Mills. Parker Mills, Mass, September 1911

Lewis Nine child labor

Two of the child workers, a raveler and a looper in London Hosiery Mills. London, Tenn, December 1910

Lewis Hine, child labor

Group of young cartoners in Seacoast Canning Co. Not the youngest. Eastport, Me, August 1911

Lewis Hine child labor

A few of the young boys working on the night shift at the Alexandria Glass Factory. Alexandria, Va, June 1911

Lewis Hine Child Labor

Adolescent Girl, a Spinner, in a Carolina Cotton Mill (1908)

Lewis Nine child labor

In a saloon doorway at 8:30 P.M. Left to right, George Cappello, 12 years old. Frank Laporter, 13 years old. Utica, N.Y., February 1910

Lewis Hine, child labor

Boys in packing room, Brown Mfg. Co. Evansville, Ind, October 1908

Lewis Nine child labor

Salvin Nocito, 5 years old, carries 2 pecks of cranberries for long distance to the bushel man. Whites Bog, September 1910

Lewis Hine, child labor

Boys picking over garbage on the dumps. Boston, Mass, October 1909

Lewis Hine child labor

A family picking nuts. Mother nursing baby while picking nuts. Was suffering with a sore throat. Rosie, 3, hanging around; Genevieve, 6, Tessie, 6, picks too. Make $1.50 to $2 a week. New York City, December 1911

Lewis Hine child labor

Boys making melon baskets. A basket factory. Evansville, Ind, October 1908

Lewis Hine, child labor

Boy from Loray Mill. Been at it right smart two years. Gastonia, N.C, November 1908

Lewis Hine child labor

Boy who carries barrels. Robert Saunders, 10 years old. Is the son of the boss. Mother picks too. Falmouth, Mass, 1912

Lewis Hine child labor

Annette Roy, the youngest worker, 7 years old. Picked last summer. Also Napoleon Ruel, 9 years old. South Carver, Mass, 1912

Lewis Hine, child labor

Belford Coldos, 8 years old, picking on Weeks’ Bog. Falmouth, Mass, September 1911

Lewis Hine, child labor

Merilda, carrying cranberries. Rochester, Mass, September 1911

Lewis Hine, child labor

Mule spinning room in Chace Cotton Mill. Left hand – Leopold Daigneau, Arsene Lussier, Back roping boys. Burlington, Vt, May 1909

Lewis Nine Child Labor

Charlie Fernande showing the scoop with which he works. Most of the scooping is done by adults. Wareham, Mass, September 1911

Lewis Hine, child labor

Sadie Pfeifer, 48 inches high. Has worked half a year. One of the many small children at work in Lancaster Cotton Mills. Lancaster, S.C., November 1908

Lewis Hine, child labor

View of the Ewen Breaker of the Pa. Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view, January 1911 S. Pittston, Pa

Lewis Hine, child labor

Norris Luvitt. Been picking 3 years in berry fields near Baltimore, June 1909

Lewis Hine, child labor

These little girls all work in Richmond Hosiery Mills. Rossville, Ga, December 1910

Lewis Hine, child labor

Boy carrying hats. New York City, February 1912

Lewis Hine, child labor

Breaker boys. Smallest is Angelo Ross. Hughestown Borough Coal Co. Pittston, Pa, January 1911

Lewis Hine child labor

Young pickers on Swift’s Bog. All working. Falmouth, Mass, September 1911

Lewis Hine, child labor

Jo Bodeon, a back-roper in mule room. Chace Cotton Mill. Burlington, Vt, May 1909

Lewis Hine, child labor

Young girl carrying bundle of coats home to be finished. New York City, February 1912