Photograph of Coal Miner Boy in USA from Early 1900s: Fact Check



An 8 year-old Coal Miner Boy in Utah or Colorado, USA in the early 1900’s

Other Versions

Photograph of a Coal Miner Boy in America from early 1900’s.

Fact Check:

A popular black and white photograph is in circulation online alleging to show an 8 year-old Coal Miner Boy in Utah or Colorado, USA from early 1900’s. It shows a little boy dressed as a coal miner, wearing the head gear and holding a pick axe. The claims as such are mixture of hoax and facts.

About the Alleged Photograph of Coal Miner Boy in USA

Flickr user Scott Cooper shared the photograph in question back in April 2011 with the caption ‘Miner Boy’. In description he in fact said it is a film scan of a copy negative from his historical archive of Utah and Colorado mining images.

Miner Boy

This is a film scan from a copy negative that is part of my historical archive of Utah and Colorado mining images.

The boy worked the mines. Children were cheap labor in the mines. He never worked that pick drill and the pipe wasn’t likely his either but the rest of his stuff was real. He spent ten hours a day in that get up with only the light from that tallow wick lamp. He cleaned and played the part of a canary (kids were easier to replace than good miners). He was probably Finnish or Swedish and indentured to the company for the purpose of paying his fathers debts to the company store. Thank God for UMWA. The unions fought hard and bloody battles to get these children out of the coal mines. This little guy worked (and likely died) in Utah or Colorado mines.

Photo Aspects in Contrast to Claims

There are some aspects of the photograph not in context with the accompanying claims. First, the boy does not look like an eight-year-old and is perhaps younger than that. Second, the pick axe he is holding is too big for him to work with in a coal mine. The boy also has a tobacco pipe in his mouth and more importantly, the background of the photograph looks like a photo studio.

So, unlike the claim what you see is most probably a novelty photograph of the little boy dressed as a coal miner. In those times, it is common practice to dress kids with props representing the father’s work and take photographs. Moreover, Mother Jones website featured the photograph of little boy in an article titled ‘Is Scholastic Selling Elementary School Kids on Coal?‘ Since then, the photograph keeps appearing on content related to child labor, educational material on coal and others.

Child Labor in US Coal Mines in Early 1900’s

On the other hand, it is a fact child labor did exist in large numbers in US Coal Mines during early 1900’s. Children were cheap labor in the mines and young boys were put to work in day and night hours. An article on Mother Jones website reports School teacher Lewis Hine left his job to work as a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. He in fact investigated and documented child labor in the United States in early 1900’s.

Lewis Hine traveled the country, going to fields, factories, and mines. Sometimes, he also worked as an undercover to take pictures of kids – as young as four years old – put to work. As shown above, Lewis took thousands of photographs of American child laborers. Some of his compelling pictures helped in persuading legislators and the general public to support laws prohibiting child labor in later years.

Hoax or Fact:

Mixture of Hoax and Facts.

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Prashanth Damarla