While child labor was common throughout much of history, it became especially popular as the Industrial Revolution spread throughout the world. The rise of factories and mills called for an increase in the number of workers, and children were perfect to take up these jobs. These children were cheaper to hire and required less pay than adult workers, which was the main reason that child labor was so common during this time. These children often had to work in order to help support their families, and would work long hours for little pay to do so. Many of the children forced into labor were either immigrants, poor, or had moved to urban cities from the country with their families. While child labor was very popular in factories located in urban cities, this was not the only place that it occurred. These children could also work in textile mills, flour mills, and coal mines, as well as other places. There were many different kinds of work that these children did to help their families.
In the Industrial Revolution, some popular jobs that children had were as factory workers, salesmen, mill workers, and newspaper salesmen (“newsies”). These jobs were most common in urban cities, and some, especially those in the factories and mills, were considered especially dangerous. In these mills and factories, the children could easily hurt themselves on equipment, hurt themselves in the work area (which was often unsafe), and also inhale fumes and dust that could cause disease such as cancer. If he machines were moving too quickly, the children’s small fingers and hands could easily get pulled in. Injuries, and even death, were not rare among factories’ child workers. Factories that these children worked in could be tobacco factories, garment factories, shoe factories, and many others as well. In particularly dangerous work areas, called sweatshops, there was poor ventilation which could lead to respitory illnesses like tuberculosis. Children were locked in the sweatshops to ensure they worked their number of hours, and in the case of a fire there was no means of escape for the children. As salesmen and newsies, these children were forced to work in dangerous weather conditions that predisposed them to illnesses such as pneumonia. They also often worked late, and early, hours and had a long work day. If these children didn’t sell as much as they were required to, they would often be hit or otherwise punished by their employers.
Factory workers Mill Workers
Newsie, age 5 Salesman, age 11
It’s clear to see that child workers were treated harshly in urban areas, but they weren’t treated considerably better in rural towns either. Most children that worked in these areas were either field and farm workers or coal miners. Both of these jobs were considered dangerous for different reasons. Field and farm workers had particularly long work hours, often working from sunrise to sunset. These children were out and exposed to the sun in dangerously hot temperatures for long hours, and had to carry sometimes twice their weight in produce while harvesting. They also had to handle dangerous tools. Coal miners were extremely exposed to dangerous fumes and dust that often caused lung and throat diseases. If they worked near the loud machines, they could suffer from hearing loss. Sometimes boys fell into the coal crushers, and were killed; they could also get limbs severed while working with other machinery above ground. Underground, miners could die by explosions due to a buildup of gas, fires, collapse of mine tunnels, or inhaling poisonous gas released in the mine. Their hands were often injured sorting the coal, and if they were caught wearing gloves they would be beaten, since it affected the workers’ agility. Here children began work at a young age, and were usually dead before they reached their 25th birthday.
Field Workers, ages 13-14 Miner