23 March 2011

Pennsylvania "coal boys," 1895

Classic "Shorpy" material, but this comes from Ptak Science Books:
Here's a series of social documentarian photographs that partially illustrate the true position of the "coal boy" out in Pennsylvania... The story appeared in the Scientific American for 28 September 1895--it was not an investigative journalism piece on the working conditions of children, just a simple report on what the children were doing.  We're still years away in 1895 from any real legal assistance to protect children as workers or to require them to be in school.
They are picking out the pieces of non-combustible slate, a task that will be appreciated by anyone with experience using a wood-burning stove in your home.

If any of you have children who complain about the need to do homework or help with housecleaning chores, just send them this link to inform them of what their great-grandparent's childhood may have been like.


  1. Yep - next time my daughter whinges about having to tidy her room.....

  2. Breaker boys bringing home extra pennies picking slag out of the coal.

    And the guy with the hickory stick? He is an overseer and yes, the stick was meant to wake up sleepy, slow boys, and speed up the lazy with a whack on the backside.

  3. It's interesting also that the longer I look at the photo, the more I'm convinced that the boys' faces have been artificially lightened in post-processing of the image.

  4. I seem to remember an old photograph of some of those boys after they had gotten off work, or during a break, or something, and, like their elders down in the mine, were black faced from all of the coal dust; and these mines didn't employ people of African Ancestry (to use a currently acceptable term in order to remove any possible confusion.

  5. For more Breaker Boys photos...Lewis Hine photographed and documented child labor in the early 1900's for the National Child Labor Committee.
    Amazing body of work.


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