Throughout history, children have always worked, either as apprentices or servants. However, child labor reached a whole new scale during the time period of the Industrial Revolution. Throughout the time frame of late 1800s-early 1900s, children worked long hours in dangerous factory conditions for very little wages. They were considered useful as laborers because their small stature allowed them to be cramped into smaller spaces, and they could be paid less for their services. Many worked to help support their families, and by doing so, they forwent their education. Numerous nineteenth century reformers and labor groups sought to restrict child labor and to improve working conditions.
The Industrial Revolution was a major factor involving child labor. It was during this time that America had entered a great boom of prosperity, and there was an excessive demand for many products that steadily became cheaper, the more that was produced. Because of supply over demand, there was a great increase in available jobs within factories. The new stream of child workers was matched by a tremendous expansion of American industry in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This led to a rise in the percentage of children from ten to fifteen years old who were profitably employed. Although the official figure of 1.75 million significantly understates the true number, it indicates that at least 18 percent of these children were employed in 1900. In southern cotton mills, 25 percent of the employees were below the age of fifteen, with half of these children below age twelve. (Irwin, Yellowitz. "Child Labor." Child Labor. History.com, n.d. Web.) In addition, the horrendous conditions of work for many child laborers brought the issue to public attention.
While child labor can be deemed as a cruelty by the staggering amount of working hours with very little pay, it is made even worse by the ghastly conditions that many of the children had to work in. In the hard coal industry, fathers brought their sons to the breakers as early as age 6, although the average age was around 8-10. The younger boys who worked at the mines were called breaker boys. They didn’t work in the mine itself, but sat on benches and picked out the bits of rock from the coal. “These children worked in the picking room, a crowded, high-ceilinged vault, crisscrossed with rickety catwalks and crooked stairs, lit only by a wall of grime-choked windows” (Levine, Marvin J. "Mines, Mills, and Canneries." Children for Hire: The Perils of Child Labor in the United States. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. 21. Print.) Within factories, small children had to work fast at the machines, being very careful unless an unfortunate body part happens to get caught in the high-powered, dangerous machinery. For several long hours in rooms without...