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The Devil's Workshop: 1911

The Devil's Workshop: 1911

August 1911. Eastport, Maine. "Group of young cutters, Seacoast Canning Co., Factory #2, waiting for more fish. They all work, but they waste a great deal of time, as the adults do also, waiting for fish to arrive." Anyone up for a quick knife fight? Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.


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Bare feet, a sharp knife and fish guts. Sounds like a perfect summer day when I was their age --- what a difference 60 years can make.

A Guttin' We Will Go

"And you make sure you wear your "Fish Shoes" when you go a-guttin' young man!" Shoes of the boy on the back right have the toes blown out. Laces look bunchy, like they weren't laced properly; or maybe broken and tied together?

How many of these boys have ADD?? Put a group of this number together today and you'd have bedlam---not to mention, several stabbed children. In my opinion, these attention deficit disorders are something unique to our times.

The Devil's Workshop: 1911

This is Joe Manning, of the Lewis Hine Project. I have tracked down the descendants of 10 of the child laborers that Hine photographed at this cannery. There are 53 of those photos on the Library of Congress website. Among the stories I have posted is one about Elsie Shaw, a six-year-old worker at the cannery. You can see her remarkable story at

Bag it

Wonder what is inside the pile of bags that they are sitting on.
Based on the empty bag in one boy's lap, I suspect they are bags of more bags.

And yes, those are quite some knives for those boys to have. Forget safety scissors with blunt points, these put Crocodile Dundee to shame.

Jets and Sharks

Although they look like a gang ready to fight, they were most likely gutting and prepping sardines, a huge industry in Maine. So many who worked in packing plants lost fingers, either by their own fast knives or by automated cutting machines. In 1948 "Cannery Row" was published about the sardine factories on the West Coast, namely Monterey, but it was not about the working conditions for kids in 1911, more depression era personal stuff. Also I'm guessing they were on "piece work" in which one gets paid for the quantity of his output, not hourly wages. I doubt they would pay anyone for sitting around waiting in 1911. No trophies or self-esteem training for these youngsters.

There but for the grace of God

Ironic that this is titled as it is. When I was a kid in Newark, I knew poverty, but nothing so terrible as this. These "idle hands" were virtual slaves and should be playing ball and reading books. Photos that I see here of people touch me so much more deeply than those of cityscapes and buildings. These fresh, yet forlorn faces say so much, and not one single smile among them. Where are their thoughts taking them? Thanks for these reminders of how good my childhood was.

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