Frank F. Gibson, 1305 Linden St. Western Union Telegraph Co. Messenger No. 7. 14 years of age. 1 year in service. Visits houses of prostitution. Guides soldiers to segregated district. Smokes. Still at school and works from 8:30 P.M. to 12:30 A.M. Investigator, Edward F. Brown. Location: Wilmington, Delaware / Photo by Louis [i.e. Lewis] W. Hine, May, 1910.
Messenger boys were uniformed young men between 10 and 18 years of age who carried telegrams through urban streets. In most areas they used bicycles; in some dense areas they went on foot. Unlike the men in the telegraph office who worked indoors on fixed wages under close supervision, enjoyed union benefits, and managed the electrical transfer of information, telegraph boys worked outdoors under no supervision on piece wages, saw no union benefits, and managed the physical aspect of the industry in the form of handwritten or printed paper messages.
From the beginning of industrialization in the United States, factory owners often hired young workers. They were working with their parents at textile mills, helping fix machinery at factories and reaching areas too small for an adult to work. For many families child labor was a way to keep hand to mouth. In 1904, the first organization dedicated to the regulation of a child labor appeared. The National Child Labor Committee published tons of information about working conditions and contributed to a legislature of state-level laws on child labor. These laws described limitations for the age of children and imposed the system of compulsory education so that government could keep children at schools far away from the paid labor market until 12, 14 or 16 years. The collection includes photographs from the Library of Congress that were made in the period from 1906 to 1942. As the United States industrialized, factory owners hired young workers for a variety of tasks. Especially in textile mills, children were often hired together with their parents. Children had a special disposition to working in factories as their small statures were useful to fixing machinery and navigating the small areas that fully grown adults could not. Many families in mill towns depended on the children's labor to make enough money for necessities. The National Child Labor Committee, an organization dedicated to the abolition of all child labor, was formed in 1904. By publishing information on the lives and working conditions of young workers, it helped to mobilize popular support for state-level child labor laws. These laws were often paired with compulsory education laws which were designed to keep children in school and out of the paid labor market until a specified age (usually 12, 14, or 16 years.) In 1916, the NCLC and the National Consumers League successfully pressured the US Congress to pass the Keating–Owen Act, which was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. It was the first federal child labor law. However, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law two years later in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), declaring that the law violated the Commerce Clause by regulating intrastate commerce. In 1924, Congress attempted to pass a constitutional amendment that would authorize a national child labor law. This measure was blocked, and the bill was eventually dropped. It took the Great Depression to end child labor nationwide; adults had become so desperate for jobs that they would work for the same wage as children. In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, among other things, placed limits on many forms of child labor. However, The 1938 labor law giving protections to working children excludes agriculture. As a result, approximately 500,000 children pick almost a quarter of the food currently produced in the United States.
Hine grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As a young man he had to care for himself, and working at a furniture factory gave him first-hand knowledge of industrial workers' harsh reality. Eight years later he matriculated at the University of Chicago and met Professor Frank A. Manny, whom he followed to New York to teach at the Ethical Culture School and continue his studies at New York University. As a faculty member at the Ethical Culture School Hine was introduced to photography. From 1904 until his death he documented a series of sites and conditions in the USA and Europe. In 1906 he became a photographer and field worker for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). Undercover, disguised among other things as a Bible salesman or photographer for post-cards or industry, Hine went into American factories. His research methodology was based on photographic documentation and interviews. Together with the NCLC he worked to place the working conditions of two million American children onto the political agenda. The NCLC later said that Hine's photographs were decisive in the 1938 passage of federal law governing child labor in the United States. In 1918 Hine left the NCLC for the Red Cross and their work in Europe. After a short period as an employee, he returned to the United States and began as an independent photographer. One of Hine's last major projects was the series Men at Work, published as a book in 1932. It is a homage to the worker that built the country, and it documents such things as the construction of the Empire State Building. In 1940 Hine died abruptly after several years of poor income and few commissions. Even though interest in his work was increasing, it was not until after his death that Hine was raised to the stature of one of the great photographers in the history of the medium.
Messenger BoysMessenger boys were uniformed young men between 10 and 18 years of age who carried telegrams through urban streets.
America's Child LaborersKids who spent their childhood working at factories, post offices, textile mills and other places in the beginning of the 20th century.
Lewis W. HineLewis Hine, Library of Congress Collection