Breaker Boys

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‘Breaker boys’ were young boys, usually between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, employed in breaking stage of coal mining, breaking mined coal into relatively uniform sized pieces by hand and separating out impurities such as rock, slate, sulphur, clay and soil. While increasing public pressure in the late 19th century led to a series of reforms regulating the minimum age of boys hired as breakers, enforcement was lax at best. Yet breaker boys were far from passive figures in the often tumultuous and sometimes violent world of late 19th and early 20th century mining. They were known for precocious labor militancy and a rejection of adult authority.

Lewis Wickes Hine, working on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee, took these photos at the Pennsylvania Coal Company facilities in South Pittston, Pennsylvania in February 1911.

Quoted captions come from the original photos.


“Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.”

“Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.”

“A view of Ewen Breaker of the Pa. [Pennsylvania] Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrates the utmost recesses of the boy’s lungs. A kind of slave driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.”

“A view of the Pennsylvania Breaker. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrates the utmost recess of the boy’s lungs. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.”

“Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.”

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