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1800's Child Labor in America


1800's Child Labor in America: The 1800' was the time when the Industrial Revolution and the process of Industrialization transformed America from a rural, agricultural to a city based industrial society that resulted in a massive increase in child labor during the 1800's.

History of Child Labor in America
There had always been forms child labor in America that ranged from the enforced work of indentured servitude to child slavery. But child labor also provided the help needed in farming families and communities. Child labor was needed in the rural farming areas, dictated by essential daily chores and the requirements of the agricultural seasons.

Poor families relied upon child labor in order to attain basic necessities and living essentials. The jobs allocated to children depended on their age and whether they were boys or girls.  Farm work could be hard, but working conditions were not dangerous and at least allowed kids to breath the fresh air.

The use of child labor, and the risks and working conditions of children, underwent a enormous change in the 1800's.  Industry developed on an extensive scale and the mechanization of industry resulted in the abuse of children who were forced to work in terrible conditions in factories, mines and mills.

1800's Child Labor in America for kids: Causes of Child Labor in the 1800's
Many factors and causes contributed to the rise of Child Labor in America during the 1800's. Enormous wealth was accumulated due to the Mines and the Mining Industry and the establishment of the Factories and the Factory System. The rise of Big Business and Corporations saw the emergence of the ruthless Robber Barons who motivated by greed and money, exploited workers and used child labor to increase production and profits. The causes of child labor in America during the 1800's include the following:

Inventions and new technology of the Industrial Revolution

The Process of Industrialization and the mechanization of industry that led to the building of factories and the factory system

The Rise of Big Business and Corporations and the emergence of the ruthless Robber Barons whose unethical, uncaring working practices led to mass production and the depersonalization of workers

The need for cheap labor - the power driven machines could be operated by children

Urbanization, the movement of millions of people from rural locations to the cities  made possible by new transportation systems

Poverty - children were forced to work to help their families

Labor Shortages - the massive influx of immigration in the 1800's fed the demand for labor including the extensive employment of immigrant children

Lack of government regulation to enforce safety standards, working conditions and working hours. A variety of laws differed from state to state

The opposition to Labor Unions prevented workers from protecting children and making it more difficult to improve labor standards and living standards in order to eliminate child labor.

Reform movements, who worked to abolish child labor, did not emerge until the 1890's with the start of the Progressive Movement and Progressive Reforms.

1800's Child Labor in America for kids: Wages and Hours of Work
During the period of Industrialization child labor was the norm. Child labor made up 20% of the workforce. Their parents had no choice to send them to work as their meager wages helped to support the families. The working children had no time to play or go to school, and little time to rest. The prevalence of child labor in America meant that the poor could not receive an education to enable them to get better, skilled jobs. Children were deprived of a decent education and entered the spiral of poverty from which there was no escape for the growing number of unskilled and uneducated workers.

  • How long did children work and what were they paid? The typical hours of work lasted from sunrise to sunset, 11 or 12 hours per day, six days a week. They had less than one hour break in their working day.

  • How much did they earn? They earned an average weekly wage of one dollar.

  • How old were the children? Some were employed in child labor as young as five years old and were paid low wages until they reached the age of sixteen

  • According to the 1900 US Census, a total of 1,752,187 (about 1 in every 6) children between the ages of 5 and 10 were engaged in "gainful occupations" in the United States of America.

1800's Child Labor in America for kids: Deaths and Injuries
The children worked in dangerous conditions. According to statistics in 1900 there were 25,000 - 35,000 deaths and 1 million injuries occurred on industrial jobs, many of these victims would have been children.

  • Children had higher rates of injury and death at work than adults and over 50% of child labor was involved in hazardous and dangerous work.

  • Many worked in confined spaces and underground in unhealthy environments.

  • They were exposed to extreme heat and cold.

  • There was no government regulations for health and safety and no state safety regulations existed.

  • There were some safety instructions on factory machines but as most workers were completely illiterate these were as good as useless.

  • The causes of the most deaths were fires, explosions, cave-ins and train wrecks.

  • The main causes of injuries were the factory machines and sharp tools. Children lost fingers, hands were mangled and some were scalped when hair that got caught in the machinery.

  • Some children were killed when they fell asleep and fell into factory machines.

  • Carrying heavy loads caused lifelong deformities and handicaps.

  • Children not only suffered from physical stress they were also subjected to mental stress due to appalling working conditions.

  • The health of children suffered working in back-breaking jobs in dark, gloomy environments with poor ventilation. They suffered from lung, ear and eye infections and unsanitary conditions led to terrible diseases and illnesses such as cholera, bronchitis and tuberculosis

Child Labor Laws in America for kids: Progressive Reforms
The 1916 Keating-Owen Child Labor Act was a federal law passed limiting how many hours children were allowed to work, prohibiting the employment of children under the age of fourteen in factories producing goods for interstate commerce.

US American History
1866-1881: Reconstruction Era
Labor Unions History
The Progressive Movement

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Updated 2018-01-01

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