Just because Labor Day has passed doesn't mean we should stop thinking about the many different labor forces that helped shape this country into what it is today. Unfortunately, this includes child labor in the early 20th century which at one point ballooned to about 2 million kids working for pennies.
The American labor movement was in full swing by the time Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1896. Support for the eight-hour workday was growing and unions were gaining political clout. Yet hiring children was still an easy choice for employers. Youngsters worked for a fraction of what their parents earned and were less likely to strike. Between 1890 and 1910, the number of American kids pulling wages jumped from 1.5 to 2 million.
It was around this time that documentary photographer Lewis Hine began investigating the lives of working children. Using a series of disguises—fire inspector and bible salesman among them—Hine photographed working conditions in coal mines, cotton mills, fisheries and on city streets, where he encountered kids employed as “newsies” and “bootblacks”.
Timeline has a great set of photos taken by photographer Lewis Hine which document some of these child labor forces in some very dangerous, filthy, and genuinely alarming circumstances. His photos helped encourage legislation for child labor laws in this country. But before that, this is what child labor looked like in the US.