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Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management
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Child Labor Reform Exhibits

Photo of Children
Exhibits

The lucky ones swept the trash and filth from city streets or stood for hours on street corners hawking newspapers. The less fortunate coughed constantly through 10-hour shifts in dark, damp coal mines or sweated to the point of dehydration while tending fiery glass-factory furnaces - all to stoke the profit margins of industrialists whose own children sat comfortably at school desks gleaning moral principles from their McGuffey Readers.

By and large, these child laborers were the sons and daughters of poor parents or recent immigrants who depended on their children's meager wages to survive. But they were also the offspring of the rapid, unchecked industrialization that characterized large American cities as early as the 1850s. In 1870, the first U.S. census to report child labor numbers counted 750,000 workers under the age of 15, not including children who worked for their families in businesses or on farms. By 1911, more than two million American children under the age of 16 were working - many of them 12 hours or more, six days a week. Often they toiled in unhealthful and hazardous conditions; always for minuscule wages.