Usually when an individual thinks about children some words that might come to mind are innocent, sweet, delicate little beings. These colorful words for children have not always been deemed in this fashion.
“There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers. The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work.”(1)
Lewis Hine, 1908
This quote sets the tone of how child labor was recognized by the American government during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There is an overall consensus that attributes the Industrial Revolution for the rise of exploitation of child labor.
The idea of the Industrial Revolution came from England. Not only did Americans fancy the revolution occurring back in England but they wanted to replicate the same things here but only better. This revolution phenomenon was dreamy to many Americans. The Industrial Revolution was depicted by fresh technology like the cotton gin and a rising economy. This period in history transformed the way people existed and worked.
Not all individuals agreed with the Industrial Revolution. For example, Thomas
Jefferson, when he was Secretary of State in Washington’s Administration, strongly opposed the idea. He believed that once people started working in industries rather than agricultural pursuits, the United States would marvel in the money and forget about schooling. Contrary to Jefferson’s beliefs, Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of treasury promoted the idea of industrial revolution. He alleged that the benefits of a growing economy strongly outweighed the negatives.
Due to the rise of cities, many families moved from their rural dwellings. Over two million children worked during this era. Child labor was seen in all facets of work. Children worked in factories, fields, mines and in the city streets. Children were an asset to the employees because they were cheap labor. Children worked to help support their families. As soon as they were old enough to help they did some were young as five years old. At this time in history children were uneducated unless they came from a wealthy family.
Not only were children subjected to work at such a young age but they had to work under deplorable conditions. Children toiled for pennies after a seventy hour work week. Those children who worked in the factories suffered from many health conditions such as bronchitis and tuberculosis due to poor ventilation. Children who worked in the coal mines would face clammy and gloomy conditions. Many of them had to transport the coal on their back which led to back problems, paralysis and on a whole a large number of them expired.