23 Child Labor Photographs That Changed The Face Of American Industry

Published August 25, 2021
Updated September 18, 2021

Photographer Lewis Hine captured the appalling child labor conditions of early 20th century America in stark, history-making detail.

Lewis Hine Tenement Child
Sugar Works Factory Hudson
Lost Right Arm
Home Work Garmet Factory
23 Child Labor Photographs That Changed The Face Of American Industry
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In 1908, Lewis Hine became the official photographer of the National Child Labor Committee. Over the next ten years, Hine photographed child workers across the country, from New York to the Carolinas to Pittsburgh, documenting the appalling conditions in which these children worked. Unlike documentary photographers who seek simply to highlight events and conditions, Hine did so with a political goal in mind: to end the practice of child labor.

At the time, business owners across the country reaped sizable profits from child labor and fought against any proposed reforms that would increase worker protections and therefore make them more expensive. In fact, owners often flat-out refused to abide by already existing labor laws, meaning that the executives did not exactly welcome the presence of photographers like Hine.

Accordingly, Hine faced resistance from both police and factory foremen who barred him from their factories, fearing that his photographs would threaten their entire industries, be they canneries or cotton mills.

In order to gain entry into these facilities, Hine often disguised himself -- and faced threats, even threats on his life, if he was found out.

Undeterred, Hine kept shooting and spread his photographs everywhere he could: pamphlets, magazines, photography exhibitions, and lectures. Ultimately, the images he presented of work-weary, injured, impoverished children helped convince the federal government to enact and enforce stricter laws that would protect children in the workplace, rather than exploit them.

Next, check out Lewis Hine's photos of immigrant life in America. Then, find out what conditions were like in New York City's tenement houses.

Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey. She holds a Master's in writing from Columbia University, and her work has appeared in Food & Wine, The Guardian, Yahoo, BBC, HuffPost, VICE, MSN, and Vulture.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Sherman, Elisabeth. "23 Child Labor Photographs That Changed The Face Of American Industry." AllThatsInteresting.com, August 25, 2021, https://allthatsinteresting.com/lewis-hine-child-labor-photographs. Accessed June 25, 2024.