The Children of the Industrial Revolution

BreakerBoys.jpg<-"Breaker Boys" picture taken by Lewis Hine in 1910 (see Child Labor Reform Movement in America below for more information)

Reasons for Child Labor

  • In the early 19th century, school was not compulsory and school was usually too expensive to send a child to
    • Working classes could not afford to send their children to school and began to rely on the extra income brought in from child labor
    • Families wanted their children to work for more income, which resulted in higher birth rates during this time

Screen_Shot_2012-02-14_at_9.03.27_PM.png<-Chart of types of jobs of children in Britain in 1851 Screen_Shot_2012-02-14_at_1.43.52_PM.png<-Chart of the Workforce in terms of age in Britain

The Conditions

  • Extreme end of working: children sometimes worked up to 19 hours a day with a one-hour total break
  • Normal end of working: children worked in factories for 12 to 14 hours a day
  • Children were paid only a fraction of adult wages
  • Sometimes orphans were not paid anything
    • Factory owners justified not paying orphans because they gave orphans food, shelter, and clothing, even though all was very minimal
  • Children were sometimes beaten and punished: Factory owners justified child labor by saying that "it was the food for everything in the economy" and that it built children’s characters
    • One common punishment for being late or not working well would be to be “weighted”: tie a heavy weight to their neck and have them walk up and down the factory aisles to be an example for the other children, this could last up to an hour
  • Machinery often ran so quickly and fingers, arms, and legs could easily get caught
  • The environment was also a threat to children
    • Toxic fumes inhaled would result in illness, chronic conditions, and diseases
  • Children in rural areas were not much better than factory workers because there was no education for the poor so it was very unlikely that children would get better paid jobs as they got older
    • It was normal for these children to harvest crops in extreme temperatures for long hours
    • Work in agriculture was less regulated than factory work
    • Children carried their weight and more in loads of produce and handled dangerous tools from the time that they could walk
    • These children has even less access to education than factory and urban children
hine-beets.jpg<-12 year old boy who works from 6am to 6pm - his father told Lewis Hine: "The boys can keep up with me all right, and all day long."hine-horse.jpg<-8 year old boy photographed by Lewis Hine
  • Quote from John Wood, who opposed child labor, talking at a debate over slavery:
    • "You are very enthusiastic against slavery in the West Indies and I assure you there are cruelties daily practised in our mills on little children which if you know I am sure you would strive to prevent." As a result of this meeting, Oastler agreed to become involved in the campaign to end child labor in Britain."
  • Quote from John Fielden, a textile owner who opposed child labor:
    • "At a meeting in Manchester a man claimed that a child in one mill walked twenty-four miles a day. I was surprised by this statement, therefore, when I went home, I went into my own factory, and with a clock beside me, I watched a child at her work, and having watched her for some time, I then calculated the distance she had to go in a day, and to my surprise, I found it to be nothing short of twenty miles."
  • Quote to support child labor taken from a book written by Ralph Mather in 1780 on Richard Arkwright:
    • "Arkwright's machines require so few hands, and those only children, with the assistance of an overlooker. A child can produce as much as would, and did upon an average, employ ten grown up persons. Jennies for spinning with one hundred or two hundred spindles, or more, going all at once, and requiring but one person to manage them. Within the space of ten years, from being a poor man worth £5, Richard Arkwright has purchased an estate of £20,000; while thousands of women, when they can get work, must make a long day to card, spin, and reel 5040 yards of cotton, and for this they have four-pence or five-pence and no more."

Types of Jobs for Children

  • Chimney Sweeping
    • Children were better at chimney sweeping than adults because they were small enough to crawl up the chimney
    • Starting at age 5, small boys would be sent up chimneys to scrap and brush soot away
    • The chimneys were very narrows and could be as small as 30 cm
    • As children often got stuck or froze in terror, the Master Chimney Sweeper would light a fire underneath them to “encourage” the child to get back to work
    • In 1832, the use for boys for chimney sweeping as forbidden by law
    • Quote from Sweep Master: "I have two boys working for me. After work their arms and legs are bleeding so I rub them with salt-water before sending them up another chimney."

    • Quote from a boy age 8: "I never got stuck myself but some of my friends have and were taken out dead."

childworkers2.jpg<-Chimney Sweeper taken by Lewis Hine
  • Factory and Mill Workers
    • Children were employed because they were cheaper than adults
    • Orphanages were used to employ factories because there were plenty of children
      • Theory was that orphans could easily be replaced if accidents did occur
    • Children were small enough to crawl under machinery and stick their fingers in small areas to fix things
    • Quote from a girl age 9: "I start work promptly at 5:00 in the morning and work all day till 9:00 at night. That's 16 hours! We are not allowed to talk, sit or look out of the window whilst we work. The only day off from work I get is on Sundays, when we have to go to church."

wh-child-lg.gif<-Part of the "Girls in Factories 1908" series taken by Lewis Hine->childmillworker.jpg
  • Street Children
    • Thousands of poor children worked and lived on streets
      • Most of which were orphans
    • In order to live they sold things such as matches, firewood, buttons, flowers or polished shoes, ran errands, and even swept the crossing places where rich people crossed
    • It was very common for orphans to steal and pick pocket from the rich
    • For this, think of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
hine-severio.jpg<-11 year ld boy selling peanuts for the past two years, all go his earnings go to his father and he works 6 hours a day, photographed by Lewis Hinehine-bowery.jpg<-A boy shining shoes as an "odd job" to make money photographed by Lewis Hine
oliver-twist-movie.jpg<-Scene from the movie Oliver (based on Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens)

  • Coal Mine Workers
    • In Victorian England, coal was the main source of power
    • Trappers: children who operated the air doors in mines and provided ventilation from the miners which prevented the build up of dangerous gases
      • Quote from a boy age 7: "I sit in the dark down in the pit for 12 hours a day. I only see daylight on Sundays when I don't work down the pit. Once I fell asleep and a wagon ran over my leg."

      • Quote from a girl age 8: "I hate the dark, it scares me. I never go to sleep. Sometimes I sing, there is nothing else to do other than open and close the door."

    • Drawers: children who pulled heavy carts of cut coal to the surface with heavy chains around their waists
      • Quote from a girl age 10: "I am a drawer, and work from six o'clock in the morning to six at night. Stop about an hour at noon to eat my dinner: I have bread and butter for dinner; I get no drink. I have a belt round my waist, and a chain passing between my legs, and I go on my hands and feet. The tunnels are narrow and very wet where I work. My clothes are wet through almost all day long."

hine-driver.jpg<-Picture of a coal miner taken by Lewis Hinehine-cage.jpg<-Photograph by Lewis Hine of miners coming up for the day, note the small child on the right compared to the other teenagers and the adult in the right corner
Screen_Shot_2012-02-14_at_8.56.05_PM.png<-Chart of employment over years in BritainScreen_Shot_2012-02-14_at_8.26.33_PM.png<-Statistics of people killed from the Felling Colliery Disaster (a major mining accident in Britain in 1812 killing almost 100 people)

Quote from William Dodd, a piecer at a textile mill (had to lean over the spinning-machine to repair broken threads), who became crippled after enduring so much pressure on his joints and wrote a famous book A Narrative of the Experience and Sufferings of William Dodd a Factory Cripple in 1841:

  • "My joints were like so many rusty hinges, that had laid for years. I had to get up an hour earlier, and, with the broom under one arm as a crutch, and a stick on my hand, walk over the house till I had got my joints in working order."

Quote from Sarah Carpenter who was forced to work when her parents died at age 8:

  • "My brother was sent from Bristol workhouse in the same way as many other children were - cart-loads at a time. My mother did not know where he was for two years. He was taken off in the dead of night without her knowledge, and the parish officers would never tell her where he was."


  • In 1840 only 20% of the children of London had any schooling
  • As early as 1802 and 1819 ineffective parliamentary acts were made to regulate the work of children in factories and cotton mills to just 12 hours a dayIn 1833 the Factory Act was made (see below for more information on Acts) which began to regulate work hours for children and forced all children under 11 years old to have 2 hours of education per day
    • But these laws were not enforced even in the slightest
  • The introduction of compulsory mass schooling in the 1870s played a role in the decrease in child labor
  • In the US: in 1910, 2 million children (18%) were employed (this was the high point)
    • By 1920 only 8% of children under 15 worked
    • By 1940 only 1% of all children under 15 worked
    • This change was due to a combination of public pressure, legislation, and parental decisions about sending their kids to school
  • The 1918 Education Act in the UK made it appear that the child labor problem was solved
    • Basically raised the age that a child could stop going to school to 14 years old

Child Labor Reform Movement in Britain (Some of the important stuff not yet covered)

  • Starting with the 1802 Factory Act, Parliament began legislation to help factory conditions
    • Most of these acts were not enforced until 1833
    • 1802 Factory Act – one of the first acts that regulated factory conditions (not enforced)
    • 1831 Labor in Cotton Mills Act – said that there could be no night work for anyone under the age of 21 (still not enforced)
  • In 1832, Michael Sadler made a investigation into the conditions in the textile factories - he presented his report to Parliament which led to the 1833 Labor of Children in Factories Act - this report is said to be one of greatest reports on the life of the industrial class
  • 1833 Labor of Children in Factories Act (the 1833 Factory Act) – first important turning point in effective legislation for child labor
    • Children under the age of nine were banned from working in textile factories
    • Children 9 to 13 years old limited to 9 hours a day and 48 hour weeks
    • Children 13 to 18 years old limited to 12 hours a day and 69 hour weeks
    • All children under 11 had to have 2 hours of education per day
    • Government factory inspectors were appointed and sent to enforce the law
      • This act declared that the age of thirteen was when the period of childhood ceases
      • Established a clear line between children (under 13) young people (13 to 17) and adults (over 18)
  • 1842 Mines and Collieries Act
    • All women and children under age 10 were banned from working underground
    • No one under age 15 could work winding gears in mines
  • 1844 Factory Act
    • Minimum age for working in factories reduced to 8 years old
    • Children age 8 to 13 years old could only work a maximum of six and a half hours on weekdays and only six hours on Saturdays
  • 1847 Fielder’s Factory Act
    • A 10 hour day introduced for children under 18 years old and for women
  • 1864 Factory Act
    • This extended the previous regulations to factories other than textiles and coalmines
  • 1867 Factory Act
    • This extended to regulation to all workshops with more than 50 workers

Child Labor Reform Movement in America (Some of the important stuff not yet covered)

  • In 1832 New England unions condemn child labor
  • In 1836 Early trade unions propose state minimum age laws
  • In 1836 First state child labor law - Massachusetts requires children under age 15 working in factories to attend school at least 3 months per year
  • In 1842 States begin limiting children's work days - Massachusetts says children can work a maximum of 10 hours a day
  • In 1876 the Working Men's Party proposed banning the employment of children under age 14
  • In 1881 the newly formed American Federation of Labor (AFL) proposes states to ban children under age 14 from working
  • In 1883 the New York labor movement (led by Samuel Gompers) sponsors a law prohibiting cigar making in tenements where thousands of young children work in the trade
  • In 1904 the National Child Labor Committee forms - child labor reform turns into an aggressive national campaign
  • In 1912 the Children's Bureau is created - initially made to protect a child's right to childhood
  • In 1916 First federal child labor law prohibits the movement of goods across state lines if minimum age laws are violated
  • In 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act is made - for the first time there is federal regulation of labor
  • Early advocates for children include Grace Abbot, Jane Addams, and Lewis Hine
    • From 1908 to about 1912 Lewis Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee - he documented child labor in American industry - his photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the US

<-Video from the BBC Series "The Children Who Built Victorian England" - there are more videos in this series if you want to check them out
<-Video a student made for her AP US History Class on child labor

<-Another video "Child Labour in the Victorian England"
<-A video on how education has changed since the Industrial Revolution for those who want to go a step further
<-Excerpt from the musical Oliver (he has just asked for more at the orphanage and they want to get rid of him)


Barrow, Mandy. "The Industrial Revolution." The Victorians. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.

Barrow, Mandy. "Working Children." The Victorians. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Childhood Lost - Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution." Eastern Illinois University :: Charleston, Illinois. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Children's Bureau." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.

"Child Labor in Factories During the Industrial Revolution." Needham Public Schools. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Child Labor in U.S. History - The Child Labor Education Project." Division of Continuing Education - The University of Iowa. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Child Labour Activity." Spartacus Educational. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.

Cody, David. "Child Labor." The Victorian Web: An Overview. The Victorian Web, 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Women and Children in the Industrial Revolution." Women and Children in the Industrial Revolution. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <>.