Child Labor, Pennsylvania Coal Mines (gallery)

In the late nineteenth century, young “breaker boys” worked in anthacite coal mines in Pennsylvania removing impurities such as slate from the coal before it was shipped out.  The coal would be broken into smaller pieces in the coal breakers and the young workers, hunched over conveyor belts, would pick through it to remove contaminants.

In 1908, the National Child Labor Committee hired the photographer Lewis Hine to photograph children at work. Hine’s photos of the “breaker boys” and other child miners helped build public support for legislation barring child labor.

What do you imagine this work would have been like physically? What would it have been like socially and economically, as a young teen, to work as a breaker boy?

Frances Benjamin Johnston, “Breaker boys in Kohinor mine, Shenandoah City, Pa.” c1891.

Lewis Hine, “A View of the Pennsylvania Breaker,” 1911.

Lewis Hine, “Group of Breaker Boys,” 1911.

Breaker boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pa. c1900

Breaker boys, Woodward coal breakers, Kingston, Pa.

Breaker, Chauncy, PA Colliery, 1911.

Mechanical coal picker, 1913.


Photographs from the Library of Congress.