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10 Photos of Child Labor in the United States during the 1900s by Lewis Hine

Between 1908 and 1924, photographer Lewis Wickes Hine was employed by the National Child Labor Committee to capture photographs of the living and working conditions of children in the United States of America. Hine would often gain access to the factories by pretending to be a bible salesman, postcard salesman, or industrial photographer so that his presence would not raise suspicion from management. His work was monumental in the introduction of child labor laws in the United States. In this article, you can view a small selection of the photographs taken by Lewis Hine of child labor in action in a variety of industries.

Manuel, the young shrimp-picker, five years old, and a mountain of child-labor oyster shells behind him. He worked last year. Understands not a word of English. Dunbar, Lopez, Dukate Company. Location: Biloxi, Mississippi.
5-year-old shrimp-picker Manuel, February 1911
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

Manuel, a shrimp picker who was 5 years old and working for Dunbar, Lopez & Dukate Company in Biloxi, Mississippi photographed in February 1911 surrounded by oyster shells. Manuel had worked there for a year and, according to Lewis Hine, did not speak any English.

The role of a shrimp picker was to pick up the icy shrimp, break off the head with one hand, and squeeze out the meat into a cup. They were also responsible for cleaning and cooking the shrimp. In Lewis Hine’s opinion, child labor exploitation in the shrimping industry was in most need of reform.

Detail of faces of younger workers in Aragon Mill, Rock Hill. Several smaller did not get into the photograph. Location: Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Young workers, May 1912.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

A group of boys and girls that worked at Aragon Mill in Rock Hill, South Carolina photographed in May 1912. It was noted by Lewis Hine that there were several smaller workers who did not get in the photo.

Original Description: Little Nettie [?], a regular oyster-shucker in Alabama Canning Co. She speaks no English. Note the condition of her shoes, caused by standing on the rough shells so much, a common sight. Location: Bayou La Batre, Alabama.
Children employed as oyster-shuckers, February 1911
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

A group of children employed by the Alabama Canning Company as oyster-shuckers at their factory in Bayou La Batre, Alabama photographed in February 1911. The girl standing and working on the left side of the wooden cart is called “Little Lottie” and Lewis Hine noted that she did not speak any English and that her shoes were in terrible condition due to standing on the rough shells for a long time.

The job of an oyster shucker is fairly self-explanatory. Their job was to ‘shuck’ oysters by opening the shell with a prying knife and then cutting the meat out. A shucker would commonly work on between two and four thousand oysters each day.

Original Description: Young Driver in Mine: Had been driving one year. (7 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. Daily) Brown Mine, Brown, W. Va. Location: Brown, West Virginia.
Young driver, September 1908.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

This boy worked as a driver in Brown Mine located in Brown, West Virginia. He worked from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. every day and had been employed for one year when the photograph was taken by Lewis Wickes Hine. On his head, he is wearing an oil-wick cap lamp which he uses for light while being in the mine for many hours. Mine employees would often use the cheapest fuel available, which would often be a mixture of lard oil and kerosene; this caused a flame that was extremely smoky which would irritate their eyes and leave soot on their faces.

A “driver” in a coal mine was responsible for guiding the horses carrying coal in and out of the mine. A driver was one of the main jobs in mines that used child labor, and the boys who held the position were typically 14 or 15 years old.

Original description: 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. Location: Lincolnton, North Carolina.
10-year-old spinner, November 1908.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

Photographed here is a 10-year-old girl who works as a spinner at the Rhodes Manufacturing Company textile factory in Lincolnton, North Carolina. She had been employed for over a year when the photograph was taken in November 1908. The role of a spinner in a textile factory was to assist in the operation of the cotton spinning machine.

Original description: Messenger Boys, Indianapolis Western Union. Aug. 1908. Wit. E.N. Clopper. Location: Indianapolis, Indiana. National Child Labor Committee photograph taken by Lewis Hine
Messenger Boys, August 1908.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

Seen in this National Child Labor Committee photograph taken by Lewis Hine are two messenger boys who worked for Indianapolis Western Union. These boys would ride around the streets of Indianapolis, Indiana making deliveries at all hours of the day, with some messenger boys working over 12-hour shifts and finishing as late as 1 a.m.

Original Child Labor Committee description: 488 Macon, Ga. Lewis W. Hine 1-19-1909. Bibb Mill No. 1 Many youngsters here. Some boys were so small they had to climb up on the spinning frame to mend the broken threads and put back the empty bobbins. Location: Macon, Georgia.
Repairing broken threads, January 1909.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

Two boys who work for the Bibb Manufacturing Company at Bibb Mill No. 1 in Macon, Georgia photographed by Lewis Hine on the 19th of January 1909. The boys were tasked with repairing any broken threads on the spinning frame and putting back the empty bobbins. However, they were so small that to do their job they had to climb onto the machinery.

Original description form the National Child Labor Committee: Lena Lochiavo, 11 years old, Basket Seller, Sixth St. Market, Cincinnati O. Saloon entrance. 11 P.M. Had been there since 10 A.M. and not yet sold out. Location: Cincinnati, Ohio.
11-year-old basket seller Lena Lochiavo, August 1908.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

This photograph shows an 11-year-old girl named Lena Lochiavo who sells baskets at Sixth Street Market in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lena’s spot in the market was at the entrance of a saloon; she would arrive at 10 a.m. and was still working when Lewis Hine took the photograph at 11 p.m. Another photograph of Lena Lochiavo shows that as well as baskets, she also sold pretzels.

Original description: Olga Schubert, 855 Gruenwald St. The little 5 yr. old after a day's work that began about 5:00 A.M. helping her mother in the Biloxi Canning Factory, begun at an early hour, was tired out and refused to be photographed. The mother said, "Oh, She's ugly." Both she and other persons said picking shrimp was very hard on the fingers. See also photo 2021. Location: Biloxi, Mississippi.
5-year-old Olga Schubert, February 1911.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

This photograph from February 1911 shows an exhausted 5-year-old girl named Olga Schubert after a day’s work at Biloxi Canning Factory in Biloxi, Mississippi. Her day started at 5 a.m. where she worked alongside her mother picking shrimp. She told the National Child Labor Committee photographer Lewis Hine that picking shrimp was very hard on the fingers. Hine also noted that Olga Schubert’s mother stated “Oh, She’s ugly.” when, after the day of work, Olga was tired and refused to be photographed.

Original description from the National Child Labor Committee: Drivers in a Coal Mine Co. Plenty boys driving and on tipple. No trappers used, as mine is ventilated by another system. Location: West Virginia.
Young drivers, October 1908.
Credit: Library of Congress // Public Domain

Two young drivers with a horse in a West Virginia coal mine photographed by Lewis Hine in October 1908. You can see on their heads lit oil-wick cap lamps which provide light in the dark coal mine. These boys would have most likely been around 14 years old.

RELATED ARTICLE: 50 Iconic and Rare Historical Photographs


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