Rise of Child Labor During the Industrial Age



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This picture shows the hardship of the children working in coal mines during the 19th and early 20th century Industrial Revolution.  Children were often used in mines because they had smaller bodies that could fit more easily and they often were much less expensive to employ. This is an “American Image” because this is a prime example in depicting the poor conditions of industries at the time.


Historical Context:The age of industrialization began in the United States around the 1770s with the cotton gin. The Industrialization was a transition to more efficient laboring with the rise of new methods and machinery. Three major developments during this time were textiles, the use of steam power, and iron. With the rise of these technological advancements there was also a rise of a serious problem, child labor.

During the industrial revolution, textile industry implemented new power looms and spinning mules replacing skilled worker thus factory owners began using cheap, unskilled labor to decrease their cost in production. These child laborers, some as young as four years old, were paid a mere tenth of what the men were being paid. Another benefit factory owners saw was that these children did not go on strike or join labor unions. Beatings, long hours, and treacherous working conditions were common.

Some children worked more than twelve hours straight in just a single day. Children working in mines at the time faced death everyday, some were killed when they dozed off in the path of a cart while some were killed in gas explosions. Many of these young workers developed terminal illnesses like lung cancer before they reached the age of 25. Quite a few children lived in workhouses where they would be sold to factories and receive food and a place to sleep in return. These children would be sold to factories as “pauper apprentices”, working without any pay in terrible conditions. Those who attempted to run away were often whipped and shackled to prevent any future escape.

As child labor became a seriously notable issue in industries, many people worked towards creating and reforming child labor laws. At first politicians tried to reduce overall child labor with laws but factory owners paid no attention to these laws. The first effective law passed was in 1833 with the Factory Act, limiting the amount of hours a child of a certain age could work. Children under the age of 9 could not work at all, children ages 9-13 could work up to eight hours a day, 14-18 could work 12 hours a day but all children were required to attend school no less than two hours a day. These laws were enforced with factory inspections but the scarcity of these inspectors made enforcement difficult to execute. Laws and reformations like these reduced child labor but child labor remained in both Europe and the United States up to the 20th century. Global labor reform continues today throughout Asia.

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