|A 12-year-old cotton mill worker in 1910|
Forms of child labor, including indentured servitude and child slavery, have existed throughout American history. As industrialization moved workers from farms and home workshops into urban areas and factory work, children were often preferred, because factory owners viewed them as more manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike. Growing opposition to child labor in the North caused many factories to move to the South. By 1900, states varied considerably in whether they had child labor standards and in their content and degree of enforcement. By then, American children worked in large numbers in mines, glass factories, textiles, agriculture, canneries, home industries, and as newsboys, messengers, bootblacks, and peddlers.
A famous example of the impact of child labor during the early 20th century was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the famed Chicago White Sox slugger who got caught up in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Jackson was illiterate because he began working 12-hour shifts at the age of six in South Carolina textile mills. Nevertheless, he became a celebrated baseball player, though he remained sensitive about his illiteracy for the rest of his life.
Many American children were not as fortunate as Jackson to lift themselves out of poverty and thus suffered the health effects of child labor. Because they tended to work in high-risk and low-skill occupations, child laborers were susceptible to many kinds of injuries, exposure to toxic chemicals, and hearing loss.*
In the United States, child labor largely ended during the Great Depression when adults became willing to accept the same jobs and pay as children. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which placed limits on many forms of child labor, was signed into law by President Roosevelt.
Sources: Child Labor Education Project, Wikipedia, and Wikimedia Commons.
*Child labor continues in many parts of the world today.