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.
Vintage photos of:
Vance, a trapper boy, 15 years old. Has trapped for several years in a West Virginia coal mine at 75 cents a day for 10 hours work. All he does is to open and shut this door: most of the time he sits here idle, waiting for the cars to come. On account of the intense darkness in the mine, the hieroglyphics on the door were not visible until plate was developed. September 1908. View full size. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine.
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.
"A greaser in a Coal Mine. Location: Bessie Mine, Alabama." November 1910. View full size image or view Shorpy even bigger (cropped). This is, as far as we can tell, the first of only four photographs Lewis Wickes Hine took of Shorpy on his visit to the Bessie Mine late in 1910. (The others are here and here and here.) Almost 100 years after being taken, they retain a strange and startling immediacy even though their subject is almost certainly dead. Who were you, Shorpy Higginbotham, and whatever became of you?