The Breaker Boys of the Past

Specifically hired for their small hands,’breaker boys’ were young boys, usually between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, employed to sort out mined coal into relatively uniform sized pieces by hand and separating out impurities such as rock, slate, sulphur, clay and soil.

Often injured or cut from the coal shards and chutes, the job of breaker boy was one of the entry level jobs for those who would later become full-fledged miners (if they remained uninjured).

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.

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“Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.”
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“Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.”
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“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.”
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“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.”
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“Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.”
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H/T TalkingPointsMemo

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