Children Working In the Coal Mine Breaker Rooms in early 1900's

    Somewhat typical of conditions under which youngsters worked in coal mines were those in the breaker room of the Hickory Colliery near St. Clair, Pennsylvania, described in a local Labor Standard newspaper:

"In a little room in this big, black shed -- a room not twenty feet square -- forty boys are picking their lives away. The floor of the room is an inclined plane, and a stream of coal pours constantly in. They work here, in this little black hole, all day and every day, trying to keep cool in the summer, trying to keep warm in the winter, picking their way among the black coals, bending over till their little spines are curved, never saying a word all the livelong day.

These little fellows go to work in this cold dreary room at seven o'clock in the morning and work till it is too dark to see any longer. For this they get $1 to $3 a week. Not three boys in this roomful could read or write. Shut out from everything that's pleasant, with no chance to learn, with no knowledge of what is going on about them, with nothing to do but work, grinding their little lives away in this dusty room, they are no more than the wire screens that separate the great lumps of coal from the small.

They play no games; when their day's work is done they are too tired for that. They know nothing but the difference between slate and coal."

In 1906, John Spargo described what he saw when he visited coal mines in Ohio:

"Work in the coal breakers is exceedingly hard and dangerous.....From the cramped position (the boys) have to assume, most of them become more or less deformed and bent-backed like old men. When a boy has been working for some time and begins to get round-shouldered, his fellows say that, 'He's got his boy to carry round wherever he goes.'

The coal is hard, and accidents to the hands, such as cuts, broken, or crushed fingers, are common among the boys. Sometimes there is a worse accident: a terrified shriek is heard, and a boy is mangled and torn in the machinery, or disappears in the chute to be picked out later smothered and dead. Clouds of dust inhaled by the boys lay the foundations of asthma."

Back to Labor History


Source: American Labor, A Social Pictorial History by M.B. Schnapper, Copyright 1972