American Child Labour c.1900-1937

1-00 a.m. but young pin boys are working, April 1910

9-year-old Dannie whistles a doulful strain..., April 1912

A "back-roping boy" ... in a New England mill, May 1909

A 7-year-old newsboy..., April 1912

A 10-year-old boy topping beets, October 1915

A 13-year-old Italian boy at his job after school hours, 1913

A 15-year-old girl ... bottling hair tonic, January 1930

A bed-time scene in an east side tenement, February, 1911

A case of truancy, 1913

A common case of team work, March 1909

A doffer boy January, 1909

A fifteen-year-old boy operating a dangerous boring machine, September 1913

A four-year-old child helping her family pick up potatoes, 1931

A group of news boys starting out in a snowstorm..., 1906

A group of the youngest breaker boys..., January 1911

A little cotton mill spinner, December 1908

A small girl bringing homework to her tenement home, 1912

A telegraph messenger boyworking at 10 p.m., August 1908

A twelve-year-old farmer seriously injured while at work, August 1915

A twelve-year-old Italian a job printing shop, 1913

A young boy making ice cream cones..., 1912

A young boy starting out for the factory..., 1920

Adolescent girl spinner in a cotton mill (1900-1937)

Against the law in New York City, but who cares July 1910

An alert young newsboy seeking a customer, 1912

An anaemic little spinner in a New England cotton mill, August 1910

An eight-year-old boy pulling beets, Oct. 1915

Boy braking on motor train in coal mine..., September 1908

Boys cutting fish in a sardine cannery, August 1911

Boys working in a cigar factory (1900-1937)

Breaker boys working in a Pennsy. mine, Jan., 1911

Carrying-in boy in a glass works (1900-1937)

Charlie who is 12-years-old..., November 1913

Child labor in Maryland oyster cannery (1900-1937)

Child labor in Maryland oyster cannery (1900-1937) 2

Child labor in Southern cotton mill (1900-1937)

Edith, a five-year-old cotton picker, September 1913

Eunice has been working in a cotton mill for five years, January 1909

Four-year-old Mary shucks two pots of oysters a day, March 1911

Francis -----, 5 year old...sells regularly..., May, 1910

Frank, 14 years ... with their parents... making artificial flowers, January 1908

Freddie, an "independent merchant"... May 1915

Girls sell newspapers too, May 1910

Glass blower and mold boy, October 1908

Helpers in a Georgian cotton mill (1900-1937)

In the cotton fields..., September 1913

In vegetable canneries the young worker is one of the chief assets (1900-1937)

Jennie is 51 inches tall..., December 1908

Katie Kuritzko, a 7-year-old oyster shucker, March 1911

Little Lottie, a regular oyster shucker..., February 1911

Mrs. Mary Rena is shelling nuts, December 1911

Nannie, a young "looper" in a hosiery mill (1900-1937)

Newsboys and bootblacks shooting craps, 1912

One of the human products of cotton, November 1910

One of the many young newsboys selling late at night..., November 1912

People call him a "little shaver," August 1908

Pennsylvania coal breakers (1900-1937)

Raveler and looper in a Tenn. hosiery mill, Dec., 1910.

Sadie Pfeifer, 48 inches tall..., November 1908

Salvin, 5-year-old, carries two pecks of cranberries..., September 1910

Sewing work at home (1900-1937)

Shelling pecans at home (1900-1937)

Spraggin a coal train (1900-1937)

Ten year old spinner in a North Carolina cotton mill (1900-1937)

The father of these children died..., January 1909

The Howell family "stripping tobacco," November 1916

The mill superintendant teaching one of the young spinners, December 1908

The Reiber family...topping beets, October 1915

This 15-year-old "carrying-in" boy at the Lehr Glass Works..., October 1908

This bootblack keeps his mind on his job, July 1910

This child is the only pupil present, five weeks after school opened. . . . Oct. 1915

This four-year-old girl and her brother, seven years old, are working on a cranberry bog, September 1910 (1910)

This little girl is so small she has to stand on a box..., December 1910

This mother, at work in the kitchen of her home puts bristles in tootbrushes (1905-1934)

This ten-year-old girl is cracking nuts with her teeth, December 1911

This young driver has been working ... every day for a year, September 1908

Trapper boy, 15, in W. Va. mine, 1908, Sept. Had trapped for several years, 10 hours a day at 75¢.

Two boys transporting wood scraps (1900-1937)

Willie has been a "nipper" for four months, January 1911

Willy and Ora... worming and topping tobacco, August 1916

Young doffers in a Vermont cotton mill, August 1910

Young oyster shuckers (1900-1937)

All images by Lewis Wickes Hine, New York Public Library
Thank you to Robert Loch


13 comments to American Child Labour c.1900-1937, by Lewis Wickes Hines

  • Laly

    Beautiful photos, sad circumstances…

  • Jimmy A

    Incredibly moving. We shouldn’t forget that this particular past is still a present reality for millions of children in the developing world. Concerned retronauts who want to help them travel to the 21st century could consider a donation to UNICEF, who fight to improve conditions for children in these cirumstances.

  • trialsanderrors

  • Serge

    A lot of people here in the U.S. of A. want this back.

  • Karen Wolf

    And to think that Republican white males don’t see why we should not repeal the child labour laws,shut down the schools, and go back to the good old days of cheap labour, early death, and more money for the filthy idle rich people of this America, this land of the free, home of the brave, and the place where children are supposed to go to school, play, learn and grow up with a future, not an early death. Shame on those greedy folks who want to return children to the horrors of childhood labour.

  • David


    What “Republican white males” have suggested repealing child labor laws and shutting down schools?

  • Brian

    What “Republican white males” have suggested repealing child labor laws and shutting down schools?

    I found that without even trying.

  • Devlicious

    That was the time… i guess in a developing country there will always be a fase of child labour…
    Now we find it to be terrible, then it was quite normal…

  • Kate

    I have a good friend who is in his late sixties and grew up in Maine in a poor family of 13. His mother would take the entire family out during the summer months, everyday to dig for clams. He was also forced to labor everyday around the house, all day, everyday, either for his mother or for his father who had laboring work for him to do as well.

    He quit school at the ninth grade, said he “gave up” because he could never pay attention anyway as he was constantly tired in school and had a hearing deficit due to untreated chronic ear infections.

    The pain this man feels to this very day is extreme. He doesn’t know how to enjoy himself, how to relax and play, is highly sensitive to being “bossed” by others, is resentful and angry nearly all the time. He knows sees children play and always reminisces about how he had to work and toil while his peers played and went to school.

    And compared to the children pictured here, his life was ideal.

    Child labor is child abuse. Period. David A. : You are an idiot and you can go straight to hell.

  • David


    I found that without even trying.[/quote]

    And if you’d read the article you’d know that it’s not about “repealing child labor laws and shutting down schools.”

    Allowing 16-17 year olds to work until 11 PM instead of 10 PM on school nights is hardly bringing back sweatshops.

  • Elroy

    I think we’ve come pretty far from the days of young children working barefoot in a belt driven mill, and climbing on unguarded machinery. These portraits are a glimpse into a past where Italians, woman, blacks, children (etc.) were not afforded any rights. But… as much as I like to think that civil rights have evolved I’m stuck with the thought that 100 years from now people will be looking at photos of protesters holding signs that read “God hates Fags”.

    Although the age and pay scale may have changed from the above photos the work has stayed somewhat the same. We’re still mining, working in factories or serving big businesses that don’t offer competitive wages or even health care. (Just thought I’d jump in on the fun here!)

    Beautiful photos.

  • Elroy

    Everything changes, but it all stays relative. Do I make more money now as a blue collar worker than a person fifty years ago? Of course. Have times changed? As I stated above “We’ve come pretty far”. I’ve even noticed the major historical changes that have improved my safety at work. I have worked in factories, on boats, as a welder, in the field of construction and woodworking for a long time now.

    I agree with your thoughts on finding a rewarding profession. However, to assume that all a person has to do in life is work hard to succeed is to assume that everyone starts out on equal playing fields, and that we can strip away all possible variables. I believe success is measured differently; “Did you stay out of jail? Did you stay alive? Now you have a regular job breaking rocks…well done.” We should try not to use our own lives as a model of how others should lead theirs.

    Most large companies strive to keep similar management, not laborers. Laborers are now, and have always been replaceable.

    I don’t believe I’m necessarily optimistic or pessimistic, and I’m surely not blaming anyone for anything. Nor do I hold ill will toward others views. I merely feel that peoples opinions may differ, which is okay. Understanding others will help us all move forward in a positive manner.

  • Bob FairPlay


    At first glance we might deplore these photos, we might ‘tut-tut’ at what went on, but, and this is highly important, all these wonderful children [loveable one and all] are indirectly being groomed in family care, love and responsibilty, duty to the community and the value of their own labor and its monetary rewards. By age 11-14 they were maturing adults who possessed values we sorely need today. I would argue that child labor is worth its worth in gold! as an alternative form of education. And a child who went through this without flinching was twice the man or woman he would have been if he/she had not undergone it. Its all well and good talking schools, talking better education but useless if the child wants a job, is worried about lack of money and food, and wants to rush into manhood. I am not advocating child slavery, nor working in mines, but to the use of common-sense methods to encourage children to better themselves in the easiest way possible. The writer was a child worker, 70 hours a week for 4 years. It did him no harm and helped to feed his brothers and sisters.

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