Trained as a sociologist at Columbia University, Hine gave up his teaching job in 1908 to become chief investigator and full-time photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). The mission of the private organization was to promote legislation to protect children from exploitation by American industry. At the time, children as young as four years old labored eight to twelve hours a day in factories, tenements, and on the streets. The success of NCLC was largely dependent on its ability to sway public opinion, and Hine’s decidedly unromantic, understated pictures served as a potent weapon of persuasion. To gain access to the work environment in the sixteen years he worked for the reform agency, he often traveled incognito as an insurance inspector. He photographed throughout the country in mines, farms, canneries, and tenement sweatshops, ultimately producing more than five thousand negatives showing child labor. Small contact prints with rudimentary titles were distributed in large numbers to the press, made into glass slides for projection, and reproduced in books and NCLC bulletins, reports, and pamphlets.
Lewis Hine (American, 1874–1940)