Honest Child Labor ‘Help Wanted’ Posters

In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, before Child Labor Laws went into effect, children all across the globe could be found working in fields, factories and coal mines. Sometimes those kids were as young as three or four,

Companies preferred hiring children for numerous reasons. One of the big reasons, was that they could get away with paying next to nothing. Kids could also fit in to tight places that adults could not; like the inside of a chimney or underneath a dangerous machine.

On the positive side, the same business owners could feel good about themselves by giving homeless kids a roof over their heads. Unfortunately, that often turned into near slave like treatment of the youngsters.

Episode thirteen of the podcast will focus in on learning the dirty history of children working an obscene amount of hours, under some of the worst and most dangerous conditions. As well as discussing the man who helped bring child labor to an end.

Curator #135 has created some vintage style ‘help wanted’ posters that reveal a bit of honesty to any potential young job seekers.

Chimney Sweep

To be a chimney sweep’s apprentice, it meant leaving your family for nearly seven years to train in the art of cleaning a chimney. The conditions were understandably awful. Kids would have to contort their bodies and shimmy up the vents. If they weren’t moving fast enough, they would send a second kid up to make them work faster. If a child got stuck, they’d send another lad up again, and sometimes they would get stuck as well.

Rat Catcher

This job typically required an applicant to have a little bit of money stashed away. You would primarily see younger teenagers performing this fairly well paying task. To be a rat catcher you would need your own traps, as well as a pet terrier or ferret. There was a bit less risk here although without gloves, bites would certainly be an issue.

Coal Miner

Imagine being seven or eight years old and working the night shift. Now imagine working that night shift underground in a pitch black, dust filled mine, trying to stay awake so a mine car doesn’t run you over. Lots of children did that back in the day, and many died. Those that weren’t crushed or maimed, often developed severe lung cancer in their twenties.

Matchstick Dipper

For being the one that sounds the easiest for a child to handle, this may be the most upsetting. This job was often taken by young girls in their teens. Matchstick dipping was monotonous and extremely dangerous and not just because matches can start fires. The job required workers to take the wooden matchsticks and dip them into white phosphorus. The kids would do this all morning and then eat lunch, transferring the phosphorus from their finger tips and hands to their food and mouths. The medical term ‘Phossy Jaw’ came from this. Many people suffered from it and it was brutal.

Loblolly Boy

This job was often handled by young, homeless boys looking for a way off the streets. Once on board a navy vessel, the ‘Loblolly’ boy would become an assistant to the ship’s surgeon. Some of their duties are listed in the poster, but the ones that stood out to me were restraining a patient undergoing an amputation and then being in charge of disposing of the limb.

But I can’t get my son to bring the empty garbage cans from the street on trash day? Hopefully you enjoyed a rather lighthearted look at what was in fact a horrible truth that many children lived (and died) through in the 1800’s. Episode Thirteen which covers all of these jobs and more, along with one man’s journey to put an end to it; will be out soon.

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