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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • FLY CANADIAN PACIFIC, c. 1950s

Lewis Hine

Ewen Breaker: 1911

Ewen Breaker: 1911

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co., South Pittston. January 1911. Spooky full image. Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine.

"Breaker boys," or slate pickers, sat astride the breaker chutes, through which the coal roared, and picked out slate and other debris by hand. Boys as young as 8, working ten-hour days, began their coal careers in the breakers. They were paid less than the adults who performed the same work and faced the hazard of hand injuries or even falling into the chutes. Some breaker boys were the sons of miners who had been killed or disabled, often the only remaining source of income for their families. In 1900, boys accounted for one-sixth of the anthracite coal work force. Read a firsthand account of the breaker boys' work.

 

Barnesville Mine: 1908

Barnesville Mine: 1908

"Drivers and Trappers Going Home." Barnesville Mine, Fairmont, West Virginia. October 1908. View full size. Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine. Note oil-wick lamps on the hats, and lunch pails. Trappers were boys who opened trapdoors to let coal cars pass and then closed them again to maintain proper airflow in the tunnel ventilation system.

One trapper's description of the job, which paid about $1.60 a day:

Trappers were responsible for opening and closing the underground ventilation doors. In those old mines, they had a system of doors between sections to direct the flow of air. Air was supposed to go up the main haulage and back to the fan. So a trapper sat all day by his door with an oil lamp on his cap. There was a "manhole" - a shelter hole in the wall by the track. The motorman would blink his light at me, and I'd throw the switch and open the door for him. Then, I'd jump into the manway until he was past, and run out and close the door. A trip would come along about every hour. Was I bored or lonely? Well, it was my job.

 

Carnival Ride From Hell: 1911

Carnival Ride From Hell: 1911

A view of the Pennsylvania Breaker. “Breaker Boys” remove rocks and other debris from the coal by hand as it passes beneath them. The dust is so dense at times as to obscure the view and penetrates the utmost recesses of the boys’ lungs. South Pittston, Pennsylvania. January 1911. View full size. Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine.

From the 1906 book The Bitter Cry of the Children by labor reformer John Spargo:

Work in the coal breakers is exceedingly hard and dangerous. Crouched over the chutes, the boys sit hour after hour, picking out the pieces of slate and other refuse from the coal as it rushes past to the washers. From the cramped position they have to assume, most of them become more or less deformed and

 

Shortchanger: 1915

Shortchanger: 1915

A 6-year-old newsie who tried to "short change" me. Los Angeles, California. May 1915. View full size. Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine.

 

Knoxville Messengers: 1910

Knoxville Messengers: 1910

December 1910. "Postal Telegraph Messengers, Knoxville, Tennessee." Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.

 

Livers the Newsie: 1910

Livers the Newsie: 1910

"Livers," a young newsie. St. Louis, Missouri. May 1910. View full size.

 

Fruit Market: 1908

Fruit Market: 1908

Indianapolis Market. August 1908. Wit., E. N. Clopper. People shopped at open-air markets like this for fresh produce before the advent of the supermarket, which was basically a self-service farmers market, butcher shop and dry goods store all under one roof. View full size.

 
 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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