Book Review: Breaker Boys : How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor

Breaker Boys : How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor (Captured History series) by Michael Bergan. 2011.

Child labor was common in the United States in the 19th century.  Children, sometimes as young as five or six, worked in tobacco companies, mills, and mines.  The worst places were the mines, where young boys spent long days sorting coal in dirty and dangerous conditions. These young workers, called breaker boys, worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, for as little as 45 cents a day.  And their existence was unknown beyond their mining towns.

It took the photographs of Lewis Hine and others to expose these harsh working conditions. Like this fellow Progressives, Hine wanted to end child labor. Knowing photography could reveal the truth better than speeches or newspaper articles, Hine used his camera to show the harsh working and living conditions of  immigrants, the poor, and the children working in mines, factories, and mills.  His more than 7,000 photos of American children at work aroused public sentiment against child labor.

Breaker Boys is one of six titles in the Captured History series, which not only tells the history of various periods of the past, but also explains how a photograph or a series of photographs changed people’s thoughts and opinions.  While learning about the difficulties of passing and enforcing child labor laws, students can discuss the debate over the role of government in business and homes, a debate that is still going on today.  Students can also compare the use of photography in the case of the breaker boys and the use of the media today. In collaboration with Language Arts classes, students can write about how different their lives would be without the child labor laws.

Breaker Boys contains a table of contents, a timeline, a glossary, and an index, as well as additional resources, source notes, and a select bibliography.

Other titles in the Captured History series:

Birmingham 1963 : How a Photograph Rallied Civil Rights Support by Shelley Tougas. 2011.

Little Rock Girl 1957 : How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Tougas. 2011.

Man on the Moon : How a Photograph Made Anything Seem Possible by Pamela Dell. 2011.

Migrant Mother : How a Photograph Defined the Great Depression by Don Nardo. 2011.

Raising the Flag : How a Photograph Gave a Nation Hope in Wartime by Michael Burgan. 2011.

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