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What Is the Trouble: 1908

What Is the Trouble: 1908

October 1908. Fairmont, West Virginia. "These boys (and one other small one) and their father work in Monongah Glass Works. Father gets $1.75 a day, one boy $1.25 a day, four get 80 cents. Total $6.20 a day. Live in a tumble-down house. What is the trouble?" Photo and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.


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The Baby in the Window

I know it's just the glass and the light, but the baby in the window looks absolutely haunting.

The younger boys can't have been working all that long; I have no trouble imagining that the family still has debts from before they were able to work.

Even today, one major illness in the family can leave it in debt for years or even decades.

4 boys

This caption says these boys plus one smaller one and there father work there. Three boys in the pic (unless the one in the window is the fourth boy plus ANOTHER boy). Father gets $1.75 a day, one boy $1.25 a day, four get 80 cents. Total $6.20 a day. There are 3 boys in this pic, plus one more not shown equal 4 boys. How can one of them be making 1.25 and there still be 4 boys to make 80 cents?

Sorry, I'm a technical girl.

[One, two, three, four. - Dave]

No Joy

The boy on the far left looks about 70 years old with the weight of the world on his stooped over shoulders. All of them seem joyless, anxious, stressed-out beyond their years and certainly not enjoying much about being young. A very sad picture. Even the little girl in the window, perhaps a sister, seems troubled. For 1908, they should have been financially stable but some other element is missing here.

Poor boys

okay, from your left, 16 year old boy, stunted growth, 14 year old boy, still looks like a boy, 12 year old boy. Oldest brother at least has got some height on him, is he 18 yet?

Great photo.

The little girl in the window is slightly eerie.

Comparable poverty

According to

"What cost $6.20 in 1908 would cost $141.41 in 2007."

That would be an annual income of about $35,000 in today's dollars for a family of 5 (or 6, assuming they have a mother at home).

If they don't have a mother at home, that in itself might be "the trouble."

Where's the money?

$6.20 a day was a good bit of money back then. I wonder where it all went. Maybe the father was a heavy gambler and alcoholic. Or maybe they just buried it all in Mason jars in the yard.


The boy on the left has old-man hands and a lined face - tough life.

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