Child labor during the industrial revolution

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uppladdat: 2005-07-22
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1. Introduction

Modern slavery?

1.1 Background

Child labor is a social problem, which grew bigger during the Industrial Revolution (19th century). Factories and mines hired many young boys and girls. Nimble-fingered and quick moving children got to work in the textile mills changing spools and such things. Other children, especially the smallest, clambered through narrow mine shafts pushing coal carts.

During this time many people thought that child labor was okay or it was at least accepted. This was perhaps mainly because of the farmer’s children who always helped the family in the daily life, working in the fields or in the kitchen. This perhaps made other parent’s think that other kinds of child labor were okay.

Generally, the children who worked in the coal mines or textile mills where poor children coming from not so wealthy families. The families economic situation were a problem, therefor were the money that the working children made a good and well-needed income.

Employers often hired orphans. This wasn’t something they did for pity or for charity. No, this happened for a very simple reason. The orphans gladly received a job if they where offered one, because they needed the money more than anyone did. This, many employers took advantaged of so they hired them, sometimes with no salary at all, just offering them a minimum of food and off course they had to work very long hours.

1.2 Aim

I wanted to write about child labor because it interests me. I think that problems in the third world is fascinating and even if the kind of child labor I’m writing about took place in Great Britain and America it is still very much like those kinds of problems.

1.3 Method and Source criticism

I have mostly searched for information trough Internet, but I’ve also read our history book (history books name). I’ve found a few sites that I have mostly hold on to:

Webpage nr3 is made by some students, but I’ve looked up their sources and have also used some of them. Because they are students and not scientists or something like that I think their site is a bit subjective. I totally rely on their information, but it’s clearly that they don’t like child labor. The other pages I have logged on to tells you in a more objective way about the subject. Web source nr1 I’ve read about interviews made by Michael Sadler and his House of Common Committee. That was a good source with good facts because the people who got interviewed were people who had been part of child labor, either as a laborer or as an overlooker.

1.4 Thesis

In the early 19th century when the Industrial Revolution began, Great Britain was the world leading country and later on America followed the rest of Europe into the Industrial Revolution who came to change our society in many ways. Because of the time difference, how did the child labor in Great Britain differ from the child labor in America?

2. Working hours and food quality

In booth Great Britain and America it was only children from poor families who worked in the factories such as textile mills and canning industries. Children working in factories were often from 6 years old and up. This didn’t mean that younger children didn’t work, they did but they didn’t work in the factories using the heavy machines. They often played the role as assistance to the older people working in the textile industries. The working conditions were awful for the children, many of them worked about 12-20 hours per day with only, sometimes none, 1 hour break. If they didn’t had a lunch break they had to eat while they were working. The food they got were by very bad quality for example the food was covered with dust. Factory owners provided with water, porridge and oatcakes, which was coarse and thick. This wasn’t food that you would consider qualify into the nourishment chain. The food had very little nourishment and didn’t provide with very much energy that was absolutely needed during the working conditions. 2

3. Working Conditions

3.1 Safety and Salaries

Almost all children were treated badly and if they didn’t obey, came late, fell asleep or just slowed down their work they were punished. Sometimes they were dipped in cold water or whipped. There was no level of safety working in factories. Children were consequently injured and killed and there was nothing done about it. Typical accidents involved children losing their arms and legs, this was because of the heavy machinery they had to manage. If a child were injured and had to go see a doctor he or she immediately got their wages stopped and there were no compensation or medical attendance. The severity of an accident didn’t mean anything to the employer. Working in the factories were life risking because its life or death situation.

Many employers hired orphans, which was a cheap labor. They worked long hours for a minimum wage and sometimes for no wage at all. The employers felt that giving the orphans a place to work and some food was enough.

Employers hired children mostly because they were cheap labor. You could have thought that the child labor situation came from some kind of lack of workers situation but that was not the case. There were a lot of strong men with the muscles you needed, to have the energy to keep up the good work for a whole day in the factories and men who also had good experience working with heavy machines, out in the market. Instead of hiring these men employers chose the children who were a lot cheaper and secondly, which might be an even stronger reason, the employers could boss around the children and do what ever they wanted with them. This I think would have been a problem if there were only grown – up men working.

An example of the horrible working condition these people had to work under is taken from an interview with a woman named Isabel Wilson, 38 years old. She said during the interview that she had been married for 19 years and had 10 children. The last child she gave birth to was born on a Saturday morning and she said that she had been working in the coal mines during the whole Friday night!

3.2 Michael Sadler and House of Commons Committee

Michael Sadler and House Of Commons Committee interviewed Matthew Crabtree, born in Dewsbury (UK) in 1810, in 1832. He was asked questions about his work as a child. He started working as an 8 year old in a factory as a pieciner (a job small children did which were about watching the machines and fix them if they broke). He work from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. He said that the affect of a long working day was that he was so tired that he could have fallen asleep while he was walking home and sometimes he got so sick he couldn’t eat and if he did he vomited. The job of his he said was very laborious because he had to continually run back and forth all day on his feet. It was very hard to keep up with the work. An affect of this running was that the products sometimes got hurt which reduces the products value on the market, this was because not all children had the energy to keep running all day with a maximum of 1-hour break many times. When he got the question “state the condition of the children towards the later part of the day” he answered that the later it became the more fatigued the children felt and to keep up with the work they were beaten to spur them on. They were beaten with a strap and sometimes a stick or some kind of a roller, which runs on top of the machines. The consequent of piecing upon the hands he said was that it maid them bleed and that the skin was completely rubbed of. And in that case they bled perhaps in dozen parts. When he was asked about the food he said "it was frequently covered by flues from the wool, and in that case they had to be blown off with the mouth, and picked off with the fingers before it could be eaten”.

John Allett started working in the textile mills when he was 14 years old. He was also interview by Michael Sadler and the House Of Commons Committee the 21st May 1832. He got the question “Do more accidents take place at the latter end of the day?” on that he answered “I have known more accidents at the beginning of the day than at the later part. I was an eye-witness of one. A child was working wool, that is, to prepare the wool for the machine; but the strap caught him, as he was hardly awake, and it carried him into the machinery; and we found one limb in one place, one in another, and he was cut to bits; his whole body went in, and was mangled.

Alexander Dean was born in Dundee in 1806. Mr. Dean was an overlooker at Duntruin Mill and was interviewed by Michael Sadler and his House of Commons Committee on 29th June, 1832. He was asked that if people got injured a lot working in the mills and if anybody in his neighborhood was strikingly deformed. He answered “One man that is working now at a mill near Brachin, about twenty miles from Dundee, and who is about thirty years of age, does not stand above four feet six inches high, and had he grown to his proper height I think he would have been about five feet eight, or five feet nine. He has been in the mills since he was five years old, and he is reduced to that state that he slides about upon a stool to do his work”. He was also questioned if there were anybody else he knew about and he said “Saunders Crabb. His body is twisted in one direction, and his shoulders in another; the body is twisted backwards and forwards, and his legs are so bowed that he mostly sits upon his heels”. This, Alexander Dean said was because of his work in the mills. He also told about a horrible accident that happened to a child who were to tired to do her job properly: “I had one young girl under my charge at Dundee and towards evening she was drowsy and sleepy; and her thumb came into contact with the machinery. I was about three or four yards from her when I heard the snap, and by the time I came up to her, her thumb was away from her hand. She held her hand out to me with her thumb gone, the same as if it had been cut with a razor”.

4. Analysis

4.1 How Great Britain and American child labor differ from eachother

When the Industrial Revolution started to rise it was Great Britain who were the world leading country. The Industrial Revolution was a conclusive turn in the development of society. Society came to be much more modern and developed so fast that this time period was called the Industrial Revolution. It was a revolution, because from being an agriculture society it turned fast in just a few decades to being an industrial society.

During the 19th century Great Britain were a quite capitalistic country therefor private persons owned many factories. These factories goals were to make such a great profit as possible. When the steam machine was invented many new things could be made and with a greater speed. The cotton industry was the early capitalism’s big branch of nourishment. In these cotton industries you found a lot of children working. Because of the big need of making money, child labor was perfect! They worked long hours, with a speed maybe older persons couldn’t keep up with and if they got lazy the employers just whipped them to spur them on. The children were like ants; they got forced to carry and have the energy to do more than their body was created for. This way of working wasn’t all. The employers could feed the children with a lot lesser food than with a grown – up man and lesser food equals lesser expenses. Low expenses were something the factory owners was looking for, if they could save money by employ little children by giving them lesser food than an adult man, but make them work as much as an adult, couldn’t they give them a smaller paycheck as well? Off course they could and they did. The child labor was constructed in a strange way. Young children worked as much as anyone, got lesser food and a smaller paycheck. A great deal for the employer, a great loss for the child.

The child labor in Great Britain and in America didn’t differ so much from eachother. The working conditions, the food, the working hours and the factories were pretty much the same.

There was something though that made them a bit different. Because of Great Britain was the first leading country during the Industrial Revolution, the way of expose children was something new and not so well known thing. You couldn’t find any laws against child labor and if you did they were very vague. But in 1802 the first Factory Act came and limited the working hours in the cotton industry to 12 hours a day for the orphans that the employers could easily take advantage of. Year 1819 the act were recreated and now it was supposed to apply all children in the cotton industry. It was also written that children under 9 years old weren’t allowed to be employed and night work became forbidden. Unfortunately the employers didn’t took this law very seriously and the child labor almost proceeded as it had been done before. During 1833 a new Factory Act was created and this one was taken much more seriously. Now governmental inspectors were hired to make sure that the law was followed. They had the fully right to go into the factories and observe the work. With this law there were a few new arrangements which said that children working in the textile industry were only allowed to work for 8 – 12 hours a day and children under 13 years old were besides obligated to attend school for at least 2 hours a day. 1844 years Act limited women’s factory work to 12 hours a day and dangerous machines and etc were provided with safety equipment. During the 1850’s and the 1860’s the Factory Acts slowly became to comprise all other industries in Great Britain.

When all this laws started to become established in Great Britain the Industrial Revolution began to rise in America. Even if child labor was quite new and unknown thing in America, just as it had been in Great Britain in the beginning, you knew more about it and maybe the Factory Acts had reached America from the continent far away. There wasn’t such a big different except that it might have been slight milder in America because of its later rise.

A great condition for industrialization is that there is a large amount of labor and that there was more than enough during the Industrial Revolution. Because that it was all about making money, the factories that provided with the products that the people wanted to buy made a great profit using child labor because it was so cheap having them as labor. For an industrial society to gain from its private owned industries you need to have people, companies and off course the state to be willing to invest money. When you have a society when the state owns most of the companies, they don’t have to compete or worrying that they won’t make money because they own the companies and the profit will end up in their hands. But when you have an industrial society it’s important to have people whom believes in you. I think that during this time the society kind of turned a blind eye to the child injustice because they knew that they would also gain from it. They would make money because they had invested in these companies that promised low expenses and great profits.

From the Industrial Revolution grew the capitalistic society where the factory owners didn’t have to put in any of their own physical power. They could hire cheap labor and just gain from it. I guess that many of these factory owners were quite conservative and if they had had any party to vote for I think they would have voted for the Moderate Party. They have the same thinking and wants very much the same as a moderate thinking person wants. They vote for private owned companies and wants to earn money.

5. Conclusions

Reading about this subject has been very fascinating. I didn’t know that child labor was so big and in that extent. I have to say I’m totally against child labor and that I think it’s an awful way to earn money, but I also have to add that I can understand the cleverness in the procedure. The people, the consumers, are always looking for the best price and I can admit that everytime I buy something that is quite cheap I don’t wonder why or how the product has been made. Using children for labor is a somewhat smart idea, consider the price you have to pay for them and the price you gain from them and you have the cheapest labor you can get. What I don’t really get is why the owners thought they could pay them such smaller wages in comparison to the adults. They still worked almost as much and in my point of view I think they should had been paid more because they had to put in so much more energy in it than the adults. And something else I think is worth consider is that these children looses so much in their life than an adult man does. The adult man goes to work as he has always done in all time and this might don’t be the thing he wanted to do, but back then he had a responsible to take care of his family and support them. I don’t think that a 7-year-old should carry this burden. This child should be able to go to school and play with his friends in his sparetime and do things children wants and has to do to develop properly. I understand that it was different back then and that children had to help their families, but when I think of helping the family I think more on such things as help cleaning the house, helping in the kitchen and maybe help out on the farm or whatever. A child who has to work through all his growth doesn’t develop in that way a child is supposed to develop. Many children didn’t have the ability to read or write during these times, but I think that far more would have been able to do so if they didn’t have had to work. They could have spent more time in the school than in the factories and therefor getting themselves an education and be able to support their families when they got older. Maybe that’s just a long-term way on looking at it, but I think it would have gained the whole society if the school had been taken more seriously.

If the children would have had the free...

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Suzanna Rydin Göthberg [2005-07-22]   Child labor during the industrial revolution
Mimers Brunn [Online]. [2018-04-22]

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