Craig, Alexandra


This boy lost his leg at eleven years old while working as a ‘trapper’ (a child who’s job was to open and close underground doors in the mine to let the loaded cars get through). He got stuck between two cars. The company determined it was his fault and refused to offer him any compensation. Even after the accident, his father continued to work at the mine.

The Industrial Revolution was the progression to new, technological manufacturing processes that began in Great Britain around 1760 and spread to western Europe and the United Sates within a few decades. This change included moving from manufacturing methods by hand, to production by machines and large-scale factories. In Britain, the general population was still desperately poor, and with limited opportunity for education, children were expected to work. By 1788, two-thirds of the workers in 143 of the cotton mills throughout England and Scotland were children (Child Labor and the Division of Labor). In the United States, many immigrants were moving to cities with dreams of a better life. Unfortunately, most were disappointed. In most circumstances, every member of the family was expected to work, including children as young as four. Manufacturers preferred child labor over any other, because employers could pay a child significantly lower, 10-20% of an adult males wage, for relatively the same amount of work. Also, strength was not needed too operate an industrial machine, and since the industrial system was entirely new, there were no experienced adult workers (Britain’s Child Slaves).

Child labor existed prior to the Industrial Revolution, but not to the harsh extent it did then. Children were expected to work on family farms or ranches, and to complete tasks and use tools that were not excessively dangerous. After the Industrial Revolution, the environment and conditions of child workers changed dramatically. Children were expected to work for 10 to 14 hours with minimal breaks. Conditions inside factories were toxic to say the least, and the equipment caused children to lose hands or limbs, while others were crushed under the machines, and some were decapitated (Childhood Lost). Beatings were common. In coal mines, children were killed when they dozed off and fell into the path of the carts, while others died from gas explosions. Children who worked at glassworks were burned and blinded, and those working at potteries were exposed to poisonous clay dust. Young girls working match factories were exposed to phosphorous fumes that caused many to develop ‘phossy jaw’, or phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, an extremely painful and disgusting disease that not only led to dying bone tissue, but also to organ failure and serious brain damage. Many children developed lung cancer and other diseases and died before they were 25 years old (Britain’s Child Slaves). The Industrial Revolution stole and maimed innumerable childhoods.

Out of this terror some hope bloomed. In 1833 and 1844, the Factory Acts were passed in Britain, these laws made it so that children younger than nine were not allowed to work, children were not permitted to work at night, children under 18 could not work over twelve hours a day, and 2 hours of schooling were required each day (1833 Factory Act). In the United States, reforming child labor laws was not popular. It took several years and many attempts by Congress to pass laws to improve working conditions and regulations for children in the workforce (Childhood Lost). These laws eventually helped to improve and eliminate child labor, however the effect that the deplorable conditions of the factories and industries in the Industrial Revolution had on a generations of children is an ugly scar on the face of society that will never be forgotten.


“1833 Factory Act – The National Archives.” The National Archives. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. < 1833- factory-act/>.

“Eastern Illinois University Homepage.” Childhood Lost. Eastern Illinois University, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. <>.

Galbi, Douglas A. “Child Labor and the Division of Labor in the Early English Cotton Mills.” Child Labor and the Division of Labor in the Early English Cotton Mills. N.p., 13 June 1994. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. <>.

Venning, Annabel. “Britain’s Child Slaves: They Started at 4am, Lived off Acorns and Had Nails Put through Their Ears for Shoddy Work. Yet, Says a New Book, Their Misery Helped Forge Britain.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 17 Sept. 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. < article-1312764/ Britains-child-slaves-New-book-says-misery-helped- forge- Britain.html>.

Image Reference:

“The Depressing Stories Behind 20 Vintage Child Labor Pictures.” Mental Floss. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2014. < depressing- stories-behind-20-vintage-child-labor-pictures>.