Tough Times on the Road to Prosperity

Dave Killion — March 4, 2012

"Group picture with tipple boy and drivers at the Maryland Coal Co. Mine in the vicinity of Sand Lick, Grafton, WV. According to the image source, the boy with the mule didn’t want to be in the picture at first, while another boy “feared we might make him go to school.”

Environmental Graffiti has a fascinating photo-essay concerning children employed in mining during the early 1900s. Reason and balance are infrequently to be found in discussion of child labour, and as you read the article you will find the predictable bashing of mine owners, but the author struggles to be fair –

“Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given what we have just learned, at least some of the young workers preferred the idea of slogging underground or within the walls of factories to the prospect of school. Historically, throughout the Industrial Revolution, many families found themselves without a male breadwinner owing to factors such as early death and abandonment, meaning the children had to chip in to help ease the financial burden.”

Back in 2001, Lawrence Reed wrote a piece called “Child Labor and the British Industrial Revolution  “, in which he described the difference in treatment for children whose employers had to deal with parents versus orphans whose employers had to deal with state bureaucrats. You can imagine who fared better. It would have been interesting to know if any of the children/miners were wards of the state, but the article is silent on the matter.

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