The child smokers of America’s industrial boom5 min read

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These are the world-weary eight-year-olds who took up smoking before the age of ten as they worked through America’s Industrial Revolution. 

An astonishing 18 per cent of the US workforce in 1900 were children and from the pictures here, it’s clear they grew up much quicker than their modern day counterparts. 

Lewis Hine, a humanitarian in the early 1900s, quit his job as a school teacher to join the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). He took these pictures while touring America, photographing the working conditions of children across the country. 

The NCLC sought to change public opinion and spark legal action to stop the exploitation of children.

The collection of the photographs he took are now included in the US National Archives Collection. 

On May 10th 1910, Hine met three news boys in St Louis, Missouri, during his cross country trip for the National Child Labor Committee, assessing US children's role in the workforce. The newsboys hawked papers on dirty street corners and delivered door to door for pitiful wages

On May 10th 1910, Hine met three news boys in St Louis, Missouri, during his cross country trip for the National Child Labor Committee, assessing US children’s role in the workforce. The newsboys hawked papers on dirty street corners and delivered door to door for pitiful wages 

Pictured are a group of American Delivery Telegram workers slumped, arms crossed and smoking outside a railroad ticket and freight office in Birmingham, Alabama. Hine captioned this picture 'they all smoke' referring to cigarettes seen hanging out of many kid's mouths

Pictured are a group of American Delivery Telegram workers slumped, arms crossed and smoking outside a railroad ticket and freight office in Birmingham, Alabama. Hine captioned this picture ‘they all smoke’ referring to cigarettes seen hanging out of many kid’s mouths

A boy, no older than eight, is seen smoking outside a cotton mill where he worked in Birmingham, Alabama. His role would have involved drying and cleaning cotton and separating the fibre from the seeds, dirt and stems. It would have been back-breaking work

A boy, no older than eight, is seen smoking outside a cotton mill where he worked in Birmingham, Alabama. His role would have involved drying and cleaning cotton and separating the fibre from the seeds, dirt and stems. It would have been back-breaking work

A group of berry pickers in Philadelphia, May 1910. They worked from 6 am to 3 pm and are all Italian. The boy who is smoking was confined in a truant school of Philadelphia and was smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is just one striking image in a set of heart-breaking photographs published by the Library of Congress this week

A group of berry pickers in Philadelphia, May 1910. They worked from 6 am to 3 pm and are all Italian. The boy who is smoking was confined in a truant school of Philadelphia and was smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is just one striking image in a set of heart-breaking photographs published by the Library of Congress this week

Ethel Shumate, who has been rolling cigarettes in Danville, Virginia for six months when this photo was taken in June 1911. She said she was 13-years-old but the photographer expressed doubt about this

Ethel Shumate, who has been rolling cigarettes in Danville, Virginia for six months when this photo was taken in June 1911. She said she was 13-years-old but the photographer expressed doubt about this

Pictured is another news boy stood next to a cart in Wilmington, Delaware in May 1910. The boy, similar to many others Hine encountered, is seen exhaling smoke from a cigarette. The photographer and reformist captured photos of the country's working kids, hoping to stop their exploitation and to change the law

Pictured is another news boy stood next to a cart in Wilmington, Delaware in May 1910. The boy, similar to many others Hine encountered, is seen exhaling smoke from a cigarette. The photographer and reformist captured photos of the country’s working kids, hoping to stop their exploitation and to change the law

An eight-year-old girl in Worcester, Massachusetts,  stops to look at the camera as she carries a huge sack of goods on her back. She is seen struggling to lift it up the hill as she desperately tries to finish her job in the early morning so she can go to school

An eight-year-old girl in Worcester, Massachusetts,  stops to look at the camera as she carries a huge sack of goods on her back. She is seen struggling to lift it up the hill as she desperately tries to finish her job in the early morning so she can go to school

A Romani family make the dresses for Campbell Kid dolls in a dirty tenement room in New York, March, 1912. The children are 12, five and seven years-old. Young children were often employed in menial jobs because it cost less for employers to pay them than adults

A Romani family make the dresses for Campbell Kid dolls in a dirty tenement room in New York, March, 1912. The children are 12, five and seven years-old. Young children were often employed in menial jobs because it cost less for employers to pay them than adults

Some of the pictures showed the affirming side of life for children at the time. The dump in Boston was turned into a children's play ground to keep them happy in Massachusetts in 1909. The children can be seen swinging on swings and merrily sitting on a makeshift see-saw

Some of the pictures showed the affirming side of life for children at the time. The dump in Boston was turned into a children’s play ground to keep them happy in Massachusetts in 1909. The children can be seen swinging on swings and merrily sitting on a makeshift see-saw

Hine ventured down to San Antonio, Texas, where he photographed another two news boys. Sonny and Pete stand on a sidewalk in hot weather, trying to hawk newspapers to members of the public. They began work that day at 6 am

Hine ventured down to San Antonio, Texas, where he photographed another two news boys. Sonny and Pete stand on a sidewalk in hot weather, trying to hawk newspapers to members of the public. They began work that day at 6 am 

Leo, 48 inches tall and just eight-years-old is photographed at his job at Elk Cotton Mills in Tennessee in November 1910. Leo's job was to pick up the bobbins that the cotton was spun on. He was only paid 15 cents a day for rummaging around on the floor from noon 'til night

Leo, 48 inches tall and just eight-years-old is photographed at his job at Elk Cotton Mills in Tennessee in November 1910. Leo’s job was to pick up the bobbins that the cotton was spun on. He was only paid 15 cents a day for rummaging around on the floor from noon ’til night

Those under the age of 16 were especially appealing to employers who could pay them far lower wages.

It wasn’t until 1916 with the Keating-Owns Act tightening some rules around child labour, including time and age restrictions. This was, however, reversed a couple of years later. 

Long term constitutional reforms eventually came with National Industrial Recovery Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which reduced children working and instituted a national minimum wage.  

The Mortaria family make flowers and wreaths in their tenement in New York. The three-year-old (near left) will work until 8pm. The other children work until 10pm. It wasn't until 1938 that Americans earned a national minimum wage and restrictions on child labour were enforced

The Mortaria family make flowers and wreaths in their tenement in New York. The three-year-old (near left) will work until 8pm. The other children work until 10pm. It wasn’t until 1938 that Americans earned a national minimum wage and restrictions on child labour were enforced

Oscar Revinsky (pictured) was a 15-years-old who scavenged in dumps in Wrentham, Massachusetts. This photo from June 22nd, 1916 described the boy as suffering from a learning disability and added his neck was 'covered in scars and boils'

Oscar Revinsky (pictured) was a 15-years-old who scavenged in dumps in Wrentham, Massachusetts. This photo from June 22nd, 1916 described the boy as suffering from a learning disability and added his neck was ‘covered in scars and boils’

The place of work for many children was inside a factory where they were able to use delicate fingers to get to tricky places. Pictured above are a group of girls hanging out of the window during midday recreation in the Danville cigarette factory in Virginia in June 1911

The place of work for many children was inside a factory where they were able to use delicate fingers to get to tricky places. Pictured above are a group of girls hanging out of the window during midday recreation in the Danville cigarette factory in Virginia in June 1911

Here three boys are pictured rummaging through a dump in South Boston in October 1909. Hine was touring the country to document the poverty and poor working conditions for children who made up over 18 per cent of the American workforce at the time

Here three boys are pictured rummaging through a dump in South Boston in October 1909. Hine was touring the country to document the poverty and poor working conditions for children who made up over 18 per cent of the American workforce at the time