During the Industrial Revolution poor children often worked full time jobs in order to help support their families. Children as young as four years old worked long hours in factories under dangerous conditions. The practice of child labor continued throughout much of the Industrial Revolution until laws were eventually passed that made child labor illegal.
Group of Breaker boys by Lewis Hine
What types of jobs did children do?
Children performed all sorts of jobs including working on machines in factories, selling newspapers on street corners, breaking up coal at the coal mines, and as chimney sweeps. Sometimes children were preferred to adults because they were small and could easily fit between machines and into small spaces.
Did they make a lot of money?
Another reason that businesses liked to hire children workers was because they worked for little pay. In many cases, children weren't paid at all, but worked for their room and board. When they did earn wages, children often earned 10 to 20 percent of what an adult would earn for the same job.
Why did they hire children?
Some businesses hired children because they were cheap, worked hard, and could do some jobs that adults couldn't do. In some cases, the businesses treated the children no better than slaves. They kept them locked up and forced them to work long hours. In other cases, the businesses felt they were helping the children out by feeding them and keeping them from starving.
Long Hours and Dangerous Work
The Industrial Revolution was a time of few government regulations on working conditions and hours. Children often had to work under very dangerous conditions. They lost limbs or fingers working on high powered machinery with little training. They worked in mines with bad ventilation and developed lung diseases. Sometimes they worked around dangerous chemicals where they became sick from the fumes.
Did a lot of children work?
Child labor was a common practice throughout much of the Industrial Revolution. Estimates show that over 50% of the workers in some British factories in the early 1800s were under the age of 14. In the United States, there were over 750,000 children under the age of 15 working in 1870.
Putting an End to Child Labor
In the United States, a real effort to regulate and put an end to child labor began in the early 1900s. Many businesses were against it because they liked the cheap labor. Some families also needed the money their kids brought home. However, eventually laws were passed. In 1938, the Fair labor Standards Act was passed that placed some limitations on child labor, set a minimum wage, and put limits on how many hours an employee should work.
Interesting Facts about Child Labor during the Industrial Revolution
Children who worked often received little or no education.
Britain passed one of the first child labor laws in 1833. It made it illegal for children under the age of 9 to work.
Sometimes children workers were orphans who had little choice but to work for food.
Children in the coal mines often worked from 4 am until 5 pm. Some child workers worked all day pulling wagons of coal up small tunnels just a few feet tall.
Many young girls worked in match factories. The harsh chemicals would often cause them lose their teeth.