United States and the Impact of Utilization of Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution.

“A Day in the Life”


The purpose of this exhibit is to demonstrate the severity and presence of the use of child labor in the United States during the Industrial Revolution. With a growing population, growing industries, and a growing economy there was a need for more labor to support this booming time (before the bust). Although child labor was not a new concept during the Industrial Revolution, the conditions and hours in which these children worked were unsustainable as well as had devastating affects on their education and future potential. The print photo above is called Vera Hill, 5 years old picks 25 pounds a day. In which, this 5 year old girl Vera is picking 25 pounds of cotton everyday in order to contribute to her family and keep up with the growing demand of cotton. The picture was taken in 1916 in Comanche County, Oklahoma and is provided to the public through the National Child Labor Committee Collection.

The use of child labor was not limited to rural cotton fields. Many children in urban areas worked in factories for hours on end taking precedence over everything. An eleven-year-old girl, Bertha Miller, from Thomasville, North Carolina wrote, “I was eleven years old when I went to work in the mill. They learnt me to knit. Well, I was so little they had to build me a box to get up on to put the sock in the machine”(Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls, pg 48-50). Bertha would work 12-hour days for a mere 50 cents. It was a lifestyle however; as she names that her sister worked in the mill as well. At a young age children were put to work long shifts in dreadful conditions and were taught to be providers and the only way to do that at a young age was to work within the booming industries of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution and Child Labor Laws


I would like to address one of my most significant resources used, which is a timeline that represents “Child Labor Reform and the U.S. Labor Movement”. This source demonstrates how particular events tie into the use and impact of child labor during the Industrial Revolution. The following illustrates key events during the child labor reform courtesy of the continue to learn site from University of Iowa:

“1832 New England unions condemn child labor

The New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen resolve that “Children should not be allowed to labor in the factories from morning till night, without any time for healthy recreation and mental culture,” for it “endangers their . . . well-being and health”

Women’s Trade Union League of New York

1836 Early trade unions propose state minimum age laws

Union members at the National Trades’ Union Convention make the first formal, public proposal recommending that states establish minimum ages for factory work

1836 First state child labor law

Massachusetts requires children under 15 working in factories to attend school at least 3 months/year

1842 States begin limiting children’s work days

Massachusetts limits children’s work days to 10 hours; other states soon pass similar laws—but most of these laws are not consistently enforced

1876 Labor movement urges minimum age law

Working Men’s Party proposes banning the employment of children under the age of 14

1881 Newly formed AFL supports state minimum age laws

The first national convention of the American Federation of Labor passes a resolution calling on states to ban children under 14 from all gainful employment

1883 New York unions win state reform

Led by Samuel Gompers, the New York labor movement successfully sponsors legislation prohibiting cigar making in tenements, where thousands of young children work in the trade

1892 Democrats adopt union recommendations

Democratic Party adopts platform plank based on union recommendations to ban factory employment for children under 15

National Child Labor Committee

1904 National Child Labor Committee forms

Aggressive national campaign for federal child labor law reform begins

1916 New federal law sanctions state violators

First federal child labor law prohibits movement of goods across state lines if minimum age laws are violated (law in effect only until 1918, when it’s declared unconstitutional, then revised, passed, and declared unconstitutional again)

1924 First attempt to gain federal regulation fails

Congress passes a constitutional amendment giving the federal government authority to regulate child labor, but too few states ratify it and it never takes effect

1936 Federal purchasing law passes

Walsh-Healey Act states U.S. government will not purchase goods made by underage children

1937 Second attempt to gain federal regulation fails

Second attempt to ratify constitutional amendment giving federal government authority to regulate child labor falls just short of getting necessary votes

1937 New federal law sanctions growers

Sugar Act makes sugar beet growers ineligible for benefit payments if they violate state minimum age and hours of work standards

1938 Federal regulation of child labor achieved in Fair Labor Standards Act

For the first time, minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children are regulated by federal law”

From this timeline one may make the correlation between the creation of child labor laws during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution that was 1820-1870 and started to get more attention and restrictions during the “second industrial revolution” that spanned from 1870-1914. This represents how as conditions worsened and development of children weakened the fight to regulate child labor become a larger priority over profits alone.

The Long Lasting Detrimental Effects


A lot of good came from the Industrial Revolution and it was a necessary time to for the United States to take advantage of new technologies and expand. For example, growth in the economy, creation of key industries, and even increased transportation, trade, and development in the west via the Union Pacific Railway as pictured below:



The negative impacts of the Industrial Revolution however, can’t be ignored.

Disease and injury were widespread and common among children working in the unsafe factories and mills. Children were treated like cattle and would work long days without sleep or have eaten, seeing a child sleeping in a crate was not an uncommon sight to see being exhausted beyond words.

According to a video hosted by Hen House:

  • In 1880, 32.5% of males and 12.2% of females were in the labor force in the United States
  • 1910 2 million kids were in the workforce in the United States
  • Children’s income accounted for 23% of household income.

The use of children in the labor force was not a new concept during the Industrial Revolution. Many children who grew up in rural areas worked in their family’s agricultural fields not solely as a way of income but as a way to support their family. Factories began recruiting children because they needed people not only with small hands but people willing to work long hours for low wages.

Children in the workforce were denied education and even sometimes beaten. Children receiving education later meant them striking for higher wages. The overall affects of childlabor on the children themselves meant a decrease in overall morale and worth that lead to many children ending up in prison and even mental hospitals. It also decreased their overall health. One can’t help but to wonder if the detrimental effects of child labor and the high use of child labor and dangerous working conditions overall for all involved contributed to the decrease in life span for children as shown below during this time period:


The awareness of child labor affects and introduction to initiatives can be attributed to a man named Albert Beveridge who influenced the start of regulations. In the end, the Keating-Owen Act was created that says no child under 16 is allowed to work in mills and factories and for those who are of age have strict working hour restrictions.

Sources Cited

Primary Sources:

Image: Vera Hill, 5 years old picks 25 pounds a day.

Hine, Lewis W. “U.S. Labor Movements – Educator Guide Final.” Eastern Illinois University. Accessed December 2, 2016. http://www.bing.com/cr?IG=E824ACF25EA34A03918E9847D71ADB55&CID=100D5620CF0762F732DE5FFFCE366325&rd=1&h=Mgj77npYrVUZfhW_VFa_8KK8e_pGlJtQzVrZZXON0xI&v=1&r=http://media.education.nationalgeographic.org/assets/file/Labor_Movements_in_the_United_States_-_Educator_Guide.pdf&p=DevEx,5035.1.

Maps: A map of the Rail Road Expansion

“New Map of the Union Pacific Railway, the Short, Quick and Safe Line to All Points West.” The Library of Congress. Accessed December 02, 2016. https://www.loc.gov/item/98688838/.

Word: A letter from a Child in the Factories

“Smithsonian Source.” Smithsonian Source. Accessed December 02, 2016. http://www.smithsoniansource.org/display/primarysource/viewdetails.aspx?TopicId=&PrimarySourceId=1012.

Secondary Sources:

Time: A Timeline of Childhood Labor Laws

[www.michaelherringdesign.com], Michael Herring. “Child Labor in U.S. History.” Child Labor in U.S. History – The Child Labor Education Project. Accessed December 02, 2016. http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html.

Numbers: Relationship with mortality rates among young children and child labor?

Gapminder. Accessed December 02, 2016. https://www.gapminder.org/.

Social Media: A video through the life of a child during industrial revolution

House, Hen. “▶ Child Labor in the Industrial Revolution – YouTube.” Pinterest. 2014. Accessed December 02, 2016. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/508906826614662262/.


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