Celebrate Lewis Hine, the photographer who saved American children from agonizing labor

If you’ve seen pictures of people working in factories in the early 20th century, you’ve seen the work of Lewis Hine. If you’ve seen children selling newspapers, overwhelmed in dirty factories, staring out from coal mines or rock quarries, you’ve seen the work of Lewis Hine.

Lewis Wickes Hine was born 145 years ago today in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and would spend most of his life documenting the plight of the working class, the deplorable working conditions and unfair labor practices which kept most people in constant poverty and disease.

Hine stumbled into photography-as-social activism while on several trips with students to Ellis Island in the 1910s. Inspired by Jacob Riis and his photographers, Hine began taking his camera into places most Americans preferred not to go. While Riis sought to highlight poor living conditions, much of Hine’s most powerful work sought to illuminate the work place.

Hine in 1930

And in particular, he used his camera to rid America of the practice of child labor, becoming the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, crossing the country over several years, capturing the plight of thousands of children in conditions unimaginable to us today. His efforts — and those of the committee — lead to sweeping laws against child labor in the 1930s.

Here are a just a selection of Hine’s work, taking from all across the country. These photos are courtesy the Library of Congress, taking from the National Child Labor Committee collection which you can peruse here.

Widow & boy rolling papers for cigarettes in a dirty New York tenement. 1908

Laura Petty, a 6 year old berry picker on Jenkins farm, Rock Creek near Baltimore, Md. “I’m just beginnin’. Picked two boxes yesterday. (2 cents a box). July 8, 1909
Salvin Nocito, 5 years old, carries 2 pecks of cranberries for long distance to the “bushel-man.” Whites Bog, Browns Mills, N.J. Sept. 28, 1910.
Glass works. Midnight. Location: Indiana. April 1908.
A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, S.C. Dec. 3, 08.
3 A.M. Sunday, February 23rd, 1908. Newsboys selling on Brooklyn Bridge. Harry Ahrenpreiss, 30 Willet Street. (Said was 13 years old). Abe Gramus. 37 Division Street.

Fisher Boys Playing Truant on their Father’s Smacks. Location: Boston, Massachusetts. October 1909
Roland, eleven year old newsboy. Location: Newark, New Jersey. 1 August 1924.
The girl works all day in a cannery, ca. 1911.
Eleven year old Western Union messenger #51. J.T. Marshall. Been day boy here for five months. Goes to Red Light district some and knows some of the girls. Location: Houston, Texas. October 1913.
A school for black children in Kentucky. Location: Henderson County, Kentucky. September 1916.
Frank De Natale, a 12-year old barber. Lathers and shaves customers in father’s shop, 416 Hanover Street, after school and Saturday. Location: Boston, Massachusetts. 1 February 1917
1910 Breaker Boys Working in Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co.
Heavy loads of newspapers. Park Row, New York City, July 1910
At a ‘tending stand’ or early newsstand, Canal Street, New York 1910
Horace Lindfors, 14 year old printers helper, sizing up leads for Riverside Press, First Avenue, New York Feb. 1917.
Messenger boys, Broadway near 40th St., July 1910
A young bootblack, around City Hall Park, New York City – July 25, 1924.