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23 Disturbing Pictures From When Child Labor Was Legal In America

During the Industrial Revolution, children often worked some of the most hazardous jobs in America.

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While apprenticeship and family work have existed since the beginning of American industry, the Industrial Revolution brought forth an entirely new set of workplace hazards which often led to the injury and death of children employed in factories and mines. Still, child laborers were often preferred in these working environments due to their small size and inability to effectively organize against their employers.

It was photographs like these, many produced for the National Child Labor Committee by photographer Lewis Hine, that swayed public and political opinion on the matter and eventually led to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a minimum working age and standardized hours.

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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).

Left: A young boy smokes a cigar while he waits for work at a cigar manufacturer in Tampa, Florida, in 1909. Right: A young girl grasps a handful of shrimp while working at a shrimping dock during the 1900s.

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At the close of the day, men and boys stand inside a crowded cage to be transported up the mining shaft at the Pennsylvania Coal Company in South Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1908.


Left: Portrait of a 13-year-old boy with a hand injury he received while working at a cotton mill in Weldon, North Carolina, circa 1914. Right: A young girl pauses for a portrait while working on spinning machines in 1908.


Left: An 11-year-old newspaper carrier smiles for a portrait in New Jersey in 1924. Right: A pair of exhausted girls stand for a portrait on a break from their jobs as garment workers in the Somerville, New Jersey, tenement district in 1912.

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