Dangers in the Mines

As the demand for coal and iron grew, more mines were opened. Although miners were paid more than factory workers, conditions in the mines were even harsher than in the factories. Miners worked in darkness, and the coal dust destroyed their lungs. There were always the dangers of explosions, flooding, and collapsing tunnels.

Women and children worked in mines, carting heavy loads of coal. Children were frequently hired to work in mines because they could climb through narrow shafts. Many spent their days on all fours or carried heavy baskets of coal up flimsy ladders.

Children Perform Risky Work

Children had always worked on rural farms or as servants and apprentices. However, child labor took on new dimensions during the Industrial Revolution. Since children had helped with farm work, parents accepted the idea of child labor. The wages children earned were needed to keep their families from starving.

Factories and mines hired many boys and girls. These children often started working at age seven or eight, a few as young as five. Nimble-fingered and quick-moving, they changed spools in the hot and humid textile mills where sometimes they could not see because of all the dust. They also crawled under machinery to repair broken threads in the mills.

Conditions were even worse for children who worked in the mines. Some sat all day in the dark, opening and closing air vents. Others hauled coal carts in the extreme heat.

In the early 1800s, Parliament passed a series of laws, called “factory acts,” to reform child labor practices. These early efforts were largely ignored. Then, in 1833, Michael Sadler headed up a committee to look into the conditions of child workers in the textile industry. The Sadler Report contained firsthand accounts of child labor practices and helped bring the harsh labor conditions to light. As a result, Parliament passed new regulations to ease working conditions for children.

An 1833 law forbade the hiring of children under the age of nine and limited the working hours of older children in the textile industry. Over time, Parliament passed other laws to improve working conditions in both factories and mines and to limit the work day of both adults and children to 10 hours. It also enacted laws to require the education of children and to stop the hiring of children and women in mines.

Photo of a group of unwashed young boys, wearing tattered clothing and holding work gloves.

Before child labor laws, working-class children like these boys in Pennsylvania worked long hours on hazardous jobs. Many of these mineworkers were aged 10 or even younger.


Why did mine owners hire children for certain jobs?

Benefits of the Industrial Revolution

Since the 1800s, people have debated whether the Industrial Revolution was a blessing or a curse. The early Industrial Age brought great hardships and much misery. Although the first factories did provide jobs and wages to displaced farm workers, the conditions under which they labored were generally terrible. In time, however, reformers, along with labor unions, pushed for laws to improve working conditions in factories, mines, and other industries. Despite the negative aspects of industrialization, the new industrial world eventually brought many advantages.

Better Standards of Living

The factory system produced huge quantities of new goods at lower prices than ever before. In time, as wages and working conditions improved, ordinary workers were able to buy goods that in earlier days only the wealthy had been able to afford. Slowly, too, the standard of living rose for workers. The standard of living refers to the level of material goods and services available to people in a society.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments