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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2018 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Breaker Boys: 1900

Breaker Boys: 1900

Kingston, Pennsylvania, circa 1900. "Breaker boys, Woodward coal mines." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5


And my brother and I though we had it so bad in the 1950s delivering daily newspapers in Southern California. We wanted a television set so my single-parent working mother said we could get a paper route and EARN our 21 inch black & white Zenith table model with rabbit ears, to watch our 3 San Diego channels.

Could have have been my grandfather

He was 9 when he started working in the central PA coal mines.

The schoolmaster apparently didn't like him and he made it Joseph's job to fetch the classroom water from the icy creek every day. Joe had enough one day, pitched the bucket into the stream and walked home. His father gave him two choices -- go back to that school or go to work.

He chose work. I cannot imagine any child working in the dark, dangerous conditions, but they did. My father said his dad carried a nasty purple scar on the bridge of his nose when he opened a mine door as a small boy and a mule used for pulling coal loads kicked him in the face, nearly killing him.

78 and 97

My grandfather and my uncle worked in the Pennsy coalmines around Bradenville and Loyalhanna. Granddad lived to be 78, had both legs broken in mining accidents, had heart and respiratory trouble (spitting black) and a hunched back from bending over for decades to fit into the 4-foot-tall tunnels. He was still mobile and had very strong upper body up to the end. My uncle, who worked in the mines from age 10 to 20 and then moved to Brooklyn and became a police officer, lived to be 97. Of course not all miners were as lucky, accidents of all kinds are always possible.

In the breaker

The breaker boys' job was to separate rocks and other debris from coal by hand. Although breaker boys were primarily children, men who could no longer work in the mines because of age, disease, or accident were also sometimes employed in the breakers. The use of breaker boys began in the mid-1860s. Although public disapproval of the employment of children as breaker boys existed by the mid-1880s, the practice did not end until the 1920s.

Waxing Nostalgic

When folks carry on about "the good old days", I doubt they are
pining for this. How long did these young fellows last I wonder?

18,000 more brothers

Were doing this work in Pennsylvania alone in 1900. These pics of "breaker boys" always get to me, especially learning on Shorpy more of what their life and work was like.

An early start

Do we even create children that would be capable of doing this kind of work now?


Adam Lambert must have got the idea from these guys.

Young Punks

they look like they could put in an equal amount of effort of work both at and away from the job.

Childhood's End

What a cold-eyed trio. The work seems to have stunted their childhood.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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