Imagine sending your nine-year old son to work in a coal mine at this age? [1911 photographs]

(Before child labor laws, many young children worked in coal mines as these pictures reveal. Knowing how dangerous it was, could you send your son to work there?)

Coal Mining is an extremely dangerous job for adults but can you imagine sending your nine-year old son to work in a coal mine instead of sending him off to school. Could you do it?  Sadly, this was common practice for many in the early 20th century as these photographs reveal.

“Breaker Boys” were used in the anthracite coal mines to separate slate rock from the coal after it had been brought out of the shaft. They often worked 14 to 16 hours a day.

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John Spargo in, The Bitter Cry of the Children (New York: Macmillan, 1906) wrote about this practice in coal mines.

Boys 12 years of age may be legally employed in the mines of West Virginia, by day or by night, and for as many hours as the employers care to make them toil or their bodies will stand the strain. Where the disregard of child life is such that this may be done openly and with legal sanction, it is easy to believe what miners have again and again told me — that there are hundreds of little boys of 9 and 10 years of age employed in the coal mines of this state.

A clipping from 1911 reveals the danger for these young boys –  Location: Chauncy, Pennsylvania.A clipping. Location Chauncy, Pennsylvania.

The Photographs with Notes below were taken in 1911 at Pennsylvania Coal Co. by Lewis Wickes Hine –These are all breaker-boys.  They were very suspicious of my motives. Sam Bellom (boy on left end of photo), 58 Pine Street. Been working in breaker #9 for two years, he says. He says, also, that he is 14 years old, but does not appear to be? Sam Topent (next to Bellom), 52 Pine Street. Been working at Ewen Breaker two years. Said, “I’m fourteen years, an’ if you don’ believe me, I kin show you de proofs.” (They were all suspicious.) This boy had told the School Principal the other day that he was 13 years old, which may be too high. James Ritz (in middle), 28 Pine Street. Been working one year at Ewen Breaker. Said, “14 years old,” but this is unbelievable. Mikey Captan (small boy on James’ left) 45 Pine St. Been working one year at Ewen Breaker, said he was 12 years old, but doesn’t appear to be that. Tony Captan (right end of photo), 45 Pine St. Been working in Ewen Breaker one year. I found these boys and many others, working at Ewen Breaker, and photographed them (see photos). Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911

all young breaker boys


young boys 2 1911“First Aid to the Injured” man equipped with Draeger Oxygen Helmet. Avondale Shaft, D.L.W. Colliery. The need for and the presence of these rescue outfits is a strong argument against the employment of young boys. Location: [Pennsylvania] 1911

first aid wickes 1911

From the 1906 book The Bitter Cry of the Children by labor reformer John Spargo:

The coal is hard, and accidents to the hands, such as cut, broken, or crushed fingers, are common among the boys. Sometimes there is a worse accident: a terrified shriek is heard, and a boy is mangled and torn in the machinery, or disappears in the chute to be picked out later smothered and dead. Clouds of dust fill the breakers and are inhaled by the boys, laying the foundations for asthma and miners’ consumption.

I once stood in a breaker for half an hour and tried to do the work a 12-year-old boy was doing day after day, for 10 hours at a stretch, for 60 cents a day. The gloom of the breaker appalled me. Outside the sun shone brightly, the air was pellucid, and the birds sang in chorus with the trees and the rivers. Within the breaker there was blackness, clouds of deadly dust enfolded everything, the harsh, grinding roar of the machinery and the ceaseless rushing of coal through the chutes filled the ears. I tried to pick out the pieces of slate from the hurrying stream of coal, often missing them; my hands were bruised and cut in a few minutes; I was covered from head to foot with coal dust, and for many hours afterwards I was expectorating some of the small particles of anthracite I had swallowed.

More Photographs and Comments by Lewis Wickes Hine

Tom Vitol (also called Dominick Dekatis) 76 Parsonage Street, Hughestown Burough [i.e., Borough] Works in Breaker #9. Probably under 14. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911

Tom vitol under 14 1911

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. 

3Breaker boys4Breaker boys

From the 1906 book The Bitter Cry of the Children by labor reformer John Spargo

Work in the coal breakers is exceedingly hard and dangerous. Crouched over the chutes, the boys sit hour after hour, picking out the pieces of slate and other refuse from the coal as it rushes past to the washers. From the cramped position they have to assume, most of them become more or less deformed and bent-backed like old men. When a boy has been working for some time and begins to get round-shouldered, his fellows say that “He’s got his boy to carry round wherever he goes.”

The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrates the utmost recesses of the boys’ lungs. 

The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrates the utmost recesses of the boys' lungs.

view of pa breaker

A kind of slave driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience

A kind of slave driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience

All work in Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Philip Kurato (on left end of photo) 177 So. Main St., Pittston, Pa. Working in breaker for 6 months, said he was 12 years old, but doesn’t appear to be that. Told the school Principal the other day he was 13 years old.

Jo Tabone (middle) 141 Thompkin St., benn [i.e., been] working three years in Ewen Breaker. Said 14 years old but doesn’t appear to be.

Charlie Bootha (right-end) said he was 12 years old. Works at Ewen Breaker. Lives in Sebastopol. Couldn’t spell his own name and didn’t know name of street he lives on. Seems to be under 12 years old. All were suspicious of my sending them to school.

Philip Kurato’s step-mother told me (through an interpreter) that he has a birth certificate showing him to be 13 years old; that he has been working in the breaker for two years – and that Squire Barrett gave him his working papers. The step-mother owns a home near by, said to be worth $1,500. Location: Port Griffith, Pennsylvania.three boys working at ewen coal

From the 1906 book The Bitter Cry of the Children by labor reformer John Spargo:

I could not do that work and live, but there were boys of 10 and 12 years of age doing it for 50 and 60 cents a day. Some of them had never been inside of a school; few of them could read a child’s primer. True, some of them attended the night schools, but after working 10 hours in the breaker the educational results from attending school were practically nil. “We goes fer a good time, an’ we keeps de guys wot’s dere hoppin’ all de time,” said little Owen Jones, whose work I had been trying to do.

More Photographs and Comments by Lewis Wickes Hine

Group of boys working in #9 Breaker Pennsylvania Coal Co., Hughestown Borough, Pittston, Pa. In this group are Sam Belloma, Pine Street, Angelo Ross, and others reported previously. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania 1911

Group of boys working in 9 Breaker Pennsylvania Coal Co., Hughestown Borough, Pittston, Pa. In this group are Sam Belloma,

Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street.Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. Location Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Breaker #9, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co. One of these is James Leonard. Corner Central St. & Ross St., Pittston, Pa. Another is Stanley Rasmus, Main Street Near Church Street, Du Pont, Pa. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911Breaker #9, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co. One of these is James Leonard. Corner Central St. Ross St., Pittston, Pa. Another is Stanley Rasmus,

Breaker of the Chauncy (Pa.) Colliery, where a 15 year old breaker-boy was smothered to death and another badly burned, Jan. 7, 1911. The Coroner said that the McKee boy was but a few days past his 15th birthday when he was killed, and that the evidence seemed to show that he was at work in another breaker before his 14th birthday.  Location: Chauncy, Pennsylvania. January 1911

Breaker of the Chauncy Colliery, where a 15 year old breaker-boy was smothered to death and another badly burned, Jan. 7, 1911.

From the 1906 book The Bitter Cry of the Children by labor reformer John Spargo:

From the breakers the boys graduate to the mine depths, where they become door tenders, switch boys, or mule drivers. Here, far below the surface, work is still more dangerous. At 14 or 15 the boys assume the same risks as the men, and are surrounded by the same perils. Nor is it in Pennsylvania only that these conditions exist. In the bituminous mines of West Virginia, boys of 9 or 10 are frequently employed. I met one little fellow 10 years old in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, last year, who was employed as a “trap boy.” Think of what it means to be a trap boy at 10 years of age. It means to sit alone in a dark mine passage hour after hour, with no human soul near; to see no living creature except the mules as they pass with their loads, or a rat or two seeking to share one’s meal; to stand in water or mud that covers the ankles, chilled to the marrow by the cold draughts that rush in when you open the trap door for the mules to pass through; to work for 14 hours — waiting — opening and shutting a door — then waiting again for 60 cents; to reach the surface when all is wrapped in the mantle of night, and to fall to the earth exhausted and have to be carried away to the nearest “shack” to be revived before it is possible to walk to the farther shack called “home.”

More Photographs and Comments by Lewis Wickes Hine

A young leader and a driver, Shaft 6, Pennsylvania Coal Company. Pasquale Salvo and Sandy Castina. Location Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911A young leader and a driver, Shaft 6, Pennsylvania Coal Company. Pasquale Salvo and Sandy Castina. Location Pittston, Pennsylvania.

At the close of the day. Just up from the shaft. All work below ground in aPennsylvania Coal Mine. Smallest boy, next to right hand end is a nipper. On his right is Arthur, a driver, Jo on Arthur’s right is a nipper. Frank, boy on left end of photo, is a nipper, works a mile underground from the shaft, which is 5000 Ft. down. Location: [South Pittston?], Pennsylvania January 1911

At the close of the day. Just up from the shaft. All work below ground in aPennsylvania Coal Mine. Smallest boy, next to right hand end is a nipper.

Group of Breaker Boys in #9 Breaker, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Smallest boy is Angelo Ross Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911Group of Breaker Boys in #9 Breaker, Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Smallest boy is Angelo Ross Location Pittston, Pennsylvania.

A lonely job. Waiting all alone in the dark for a trip[?] to come through. It was so damp that Willie said he had to go to the doctor for his cough. A short distance from here, the gas was pouring into the mine so rapidly that it made a great torch when the foreman lit it. Lives at 164 Center St., Pittston, Pa. This is Willie Bryden[?], a nipper. Been working there 4 mos. 500 ft. from the shaft, and a quarter of a mile underground from there. Shaft #6 Pa. Coal Co. Walls have been whiterewashed to make it lighter. Jan 16 I found Willie at home sick, His mother admitted he is only 13 yrs old; will be 14 next July. She said 4 months after the mine boss told the father to take Willie to work, and they obtained a certificate from Squire Barrett. The only thing the squire could do was to make Willie out to be 16 yrs. Willie’s father & brother are miners and the home is that of a frugal German family. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911a lonely job

Holding the door open while a trip[?] goes through. Willie Bryden, a nipper, 164 Center St. A lonely job. Waiting all alone in the dark for a trip to come through. It was so damp that Willie said he had to be doctoring all the time for his cough. A short distance from here, the gas was pouring into the mine so rapidly that it made a great torch when the foreman lit it. Willie had been working here for four months, 500 feet down the shaft, and a quarter of a mile underground from there. (Shaft #6 Pennsylvania Coal Co.) Walls have been whitewashed to make it lighter. January 16th, I found Willie at home sick, His mother admitted that he is only 13 yrs old; will be 14 next July. Said that 4 mos. ago the mine boss told the father to take Willie to work, and that they obtained the certificate from Squire Barrett. (The only thing the Squire could do was to make Willie out to be 16 yrs old.) Willie’s father and brother are miners and the home is that of a frugal German family. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911

Holding the door 1911

Resting with the load at the head of the slope. Shaft #6 Pennsylvania Coal Co., Small boy is Jo Puma, a Nipper, 163 Pine Street. Jo’s mother showed passport which shows Jo to be 14 years old, but he has no school certificate, although working inside the mine. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911

Resting with the load at the head of the slope. Shaft 6 Pennsylvania Coal Co., Small boy is Jo Puma, a Nipper, 163 Pine Street. Jo's mother showed

Inside workers shaft #6, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911

Inside workers shaft 6, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location South Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911 hines

Arthur Havard, a young driver, Shaft #6, Pennsylvania Coal Company. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911

Arthur Havard, a young driver, Shaft 6, Pennsylvania Coal Company. Location South Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911 hines

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location South Pittston, Pennsylvania. hines 1911

At the close of the day. Waiting for the cage to go up. The cage is entirely open on two sides and not very well protected on other two, and is usually crowded like this. Small boy in front is Jo Pume, a Nipper, 163 Pine Street. Shaft #6, Pennsylvania Coal Co.,. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.at the close of the day waiting on cage

Mule power and motor power. A Young Driver, Shaft 6, Pennsylvania Coal Company. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911Mule power and motor power. A Young Driver, Shaft 6, Pe

One-legged Boy from Pennsylvania Coal Mine 1909

One-legged Boy from Pennsylvania Coal Mine 1909

In centre is one of the young boys working underground in the Bliss Shaft of the D.L. & W. at Nanticoke, Pa. Location: Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.1911

In centre is one of the young boys working underground in the Bliss Shaft

 A few of the young breaker boys working in the Bliss breaker of the D.L. & W. near Nanticoke, Pa. Location: Nanticoke vicinity, Pennsylvania. 1911

A few of the young breaker boys working in the Bliss breaker of the D.L. & W. near Nanticoke, Pa. Location Nanticoke vicinity, Pennsylvania.

Angelo Ross, 142 Panama Street, Hughestown Borough. A youngster who has been working in Breaker #9 Pennsylvania Company for four months, said he was 13 years old, but very doubtful. He has a brother Tony probably under 14, working. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911

Angelo Ross, 142 Panama Street, Hughestown Borough. A youngster who has been working in Breaker #9 Pennsylvania Company for four months, said he was 13 years old, but very doubtful.

Four Breaker Boys working in #9 Breaker, Hughestown Borough. Boy on left is Tony Ross, 142 Panama Street, other small boy is Mike Rosa [i.e., Ross?], cousin. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania. 1911Four Breaker Boys working in 9 Breaker, Hughestown Borough. Boy on left is Tony Ross, 142 Panama Street, other small boy is Mike Rosa

All these, including boys in middle and left end of photo, work underground in the Bliss Colliery of the D.L.&W., near Nanticoke, Pa. Location: Nanticoke vicinity, Pennsylvania. 1911

All these, including boys in middle and left end of photo, work underground in the Bliss Colliery of the D.L.W., near Nanticoke, Pa.

Boys picking slate in a great coal breaker, anthracite mines, Pa. 1913 Underwood & Underwood

Boys picking slate in a great coal breaker, anthracite mines, Pa. 1913 Photographer Underwood & Underwood

Breaker boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pa. 1900 – photograph Detroit Publishing Co.

Breaker boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pa. 1913 - photograph Detroit Publishing Co.

Emergency hospital in anthracite coal mines 1909 – One man bandages head of injured man while another bandages his arm – photograph by Keystone View Co. - one man bandages head while another bandages arm

Photo shows people at the Cincinnati coal mine, located near Finleyville, Pennsylvania, where a fire and explosion resulted in the deaths of 97 miners on April 23, 1913. Bain News ServicePhoto shows people at the Cincinnati coal mine, located near Finleyville, Pennsylvania, where a fire and explosion resulted in the deaths of 97 miners on April 23, 1913.

 

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By (author): Donna R Causey

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me

All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

She has authored numerous genealogy books.
RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE)
is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2)
is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series)
Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1)
is the continuation of the story. .

For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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