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23 Disturbing Pictures From When Child Labor Was Legal In America

During the Industrial Revolution, children often worked some of the most hazardous jobs in America.

Posted on April 11, 2017, at 5:08 p.m. ET

While apprenticeship and family work have existed since the beginning of American industry, the Industrial Revolution brought forth an entirely new set of workplace hazards which often led to the injury and death of children employed in factories and mines. Still, child laborers were often preferred in these working environments due to their small size and inability to effectively organize against their employers.

It was photographs like these, many produced for the National Child Labor Committee by photographer Lewis Hine, that swayed public and political opinion on the matter and eventually led to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a minimum working age and standardized hours.

A group of newsboys have a smoke during their break in St. Louis, May 1910.
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A group of newsboys have a smoke during their break in St. Louis, May 1910.

An exhausted newsboy sleeps on a pile of newspapers in a stairwell in Jersey City, New Jersey, circa 1912.
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An exhausted newsboy sleeps on a pile of newspapers in a stairwell in Jersey City, New Jersey, circa 1912.

A sign outside of the N.Y. Button Works factory in New York City reads: "Wanted, Small Boys," circa 1916.
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A sign outside of the N.Y. Button Works factory in New York City reads: "Wanted, Small Boys," circa 1916.

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A group of young girls on a break from their jobs as oyster shuckers at a seafood canning company in Port Royal, South Carolina, in 1911. From left to right: Josie (6 years old), Bertha (6 years old), and Sophie (10 years old).
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A group of young girls on a break from their jobs as oyster shuckers at a seafood canning company in Port Royal, South Carolina, in 1911. From left to right: Josie (6 years old), Bertha (6 years old), and Sophie (10 years old).

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Left: A young boy smokes a cigar while he waits for work at a cigar manufacturer in Tampa, Florida, in 1909. Right: A young girl grasps a handful of shrimp while working at a shrimping dock during the 1900s.

In Gary, West Virginia, a boy applies the brakes on a motor train, 1908. He performs this task for about 10 hours a day.
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In Gary, West Virginia, a boy applies the brakes on a motor train, 1908. He performs this task for about 10 hours a day.

At the close of the day, men and boys stand inside a crowded cage to be transported up the mining shaft at the Pennsylvania Coal Company in South Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1908.
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At the close of the day, men and boys stand inside a crowded cage to be transported up the mining shaft at the Pennsylvania Coal Company in South Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1908.

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Three young boys wait for a shipment of zinc ore to shovel at a mine near Aurora, Missouri, circa 1910.
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Three young boys wait for a shipment of zinc ore to shovel at a mine near Aurora, Missouri, circa 1910.

Richard Pierce, a messenger at the Western Union on 723 Walnut Street in Wilmington, Delaware, in May 1910.
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Richard Pierce, a messenger at the Western Union on 723 Walnut Street in Wilmington, Delaware, in May 1910.

A pair of boys are seen working the spindle at a Georgia cotton mill, circa 1900.
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A pair of boys are seen working the spindle at a Georgia cotton mill, circa 1900.

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Library of Congress

Left: Portrait of a 13-year-old boy with a hand injury he received while working at a cotton mill in Weldon, North Carolina, circa 1914. Right: A young girl pauses for a portrait while working on spinning machines in 1908.

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A girl undergoes a medical examination at the Bureau of Child Services in order to obtain a work certificate, circa 1915.
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A girl undergoes a medical examination at the Bureau of Child Services in order to obtain a work certificate, circa 1915.

A teenage girl pauses from work as a spinner at a cotton mill in Lancaster, South Carolina, circa 1908.
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A teenage girl pauses from work as a spinner at a cotton mill in Lancaster, South Carolina, circa 1908.

Group portrait of child workers employed by the Breaker Pennsylvania Coal Company in Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1908.
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Group portrait of child workers employed by the Breaker Pennsylvania Coal Company in Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1908.

A small child carries loads of cans at a food packing plant in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1909.
Library Of Congress / Getty Images

A small child carries loads of cans at a food packing plant in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1909.

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A group of boys set up bowling pins at a late-night bowling alley in Trenton, New Jersey, circa 1909.
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A group of boys set up bowling pins at a late-night bowling alley in Trenton, New Jersey, circa 1909.

Library Of Congress / Getty Images
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Left: An 11-year-old newspaper carrier smiles for a portrait in New Jersey in 1924. Right: A pair of exhausted girls stand for a portrait on a break from their jobs as garment workers in the Somerville, New Jersey, tenement district in 1912.

A 6-year-old girl working as a berry picker stands in a field in Maryland, circa 1909.
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A 6-year-old girl working as a berry picker stands in a field in Maryland, circa 1909.

Several boys still at work at 9 p.m. during the night shift at the Indiana Glass Works in Indianapolis in 1908.
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Several boys still at work at 9 p.m. during the night shift at the Indiana Glass Works in Indianapolis in 1908.

A young girl looks out of a factory window during her shift at a cotton mill in Lincolnton, North Carolina, circa 1908.
Universal History Archive / Getty Images

A young girl looks out of a factory window during her shift at a cotton mill in Lincolnton, North Carolina, circa 1908.

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