Snow White - CHILD MINERS - THEN and NOW

CHILD MINERS - THEN and NOW (Illustration) Geography Social Studies STEM Victorian Age Nineteenth Century Life Fiction Ethics Film

Teach Sloan was an Appalachian coal miner who worked very hard to earn a living for his family. In this image we see him with his son. Image online, via Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection, Ms89-025 - Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.  Copyright, Virginia Tech, all rights reserved.  Image provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the Earl Palmer Collection.


Britain needed so many workers during the Industrial Revolution that children were employed in all kinds of jobs.  Child miners were in especially high demand.
To keep the steam engines running, and the factories fully staffed, the country consumed huge amounts of coal.  Very young children helped to get the coal out of the mines.  Their jobs were very dangerous and exhausting:

  • Some of the children worked as trappers.  They helped to maintain good air-flow in the mines, thereby avoiding a dangerous build-up of gases. 
  • Other children served as drawers.  They were responsible for getting truckloads of coal from inside the mine to the surface.
  • Older children did other dangerous work, such as operating mine-shaft pulleys.  Life expectancy, for jobs like these, was very short.

All the child miners, from the youngest to the oldest, were consistently covered in dirt, grime and coal dust.  Their pay was poor, but whatever they brought home was used to help support their families.

The children of working families, in the United Kingdom, thus helped to build what became Victorian Britain.  Their lives were very different from their counterparts who were born into upper-class families. 

When the Industrial Revolution began in America, children were also put to work in mines, fields, canneries, mills, glassworks and wherever else hard work was needed.  Lewis Hine (who was employed by the National Child Labor Committee) took many pictures of these working children in the early 1900s.  Let's examine some of his photos:

  • A young boy - from Brown, West Virginia - was a mine driver who worked everyday from 7 AM to 5:30 PM. 
  • James O’Dell - about 12 or 13 - was a greaser and coupler near Coal Creek, Tennessee.  He also pushed heavy loads of coal.
  • Some of the boy miners in West Virginia (and elsewhere) worked with mules, deep inside the mines.
  • Stooping in mines - because of narrow seams and low ceilings like those at Turkey Knob Mine at Macdonald, West Virginia - was a common event.
  • Everyone working in coal mines - including children - had to "put up with" coal dust like these workers near South Pittston, Pennsylvania.
  • Accidents happen in mines, as demonstrated by a fall of slate which blocked an entry at the Turkey Knob Mine.
  • In addition to child miners, young children filled other jobs - covering midnight shifts as well as day shifts - like youngsters working at a West Virginia glassworks plant.
  • Children working at the Loray textile mill - in Gastonia, North Carolina - were sometimes shoeless.
  • Living near Sterling, Colorado a ten-year-old boy used a dangerous beet-topping knife.  According to Lewis Hine - the photographer - the child was part of "a well-to-do family, but kept out of school to work."

Child miners are still hard at work in various countries.  (In 2007, it was estimated that "over 1 million children," around the world, were working in mines and quarries.)  A few examples can be found in Bolivia, Ukraine and Tanzania:

  • Known for its beautiful blue gemstones, Tanzania has child miners who help to find Tanzanite in the Mererani mines of northern Tanzania.  For these children, "school and a normal childhood are beyond their means."

Upperclass children did not experience the type of hardship endured by child miners.  Even so ... life in a stately home, or castle, was not always so pleasant for well-to-do children.  Yet ... when we think about castles ... we often associate them with a fairy-tale kind of existence.

One of the best places to overview a "fairy tale life" is along Germany's "Fairy Tale Road."


ISSUES AND QUESTIONS TO PONDER:  Small people were needed to work the mines so that coal could be removed from narrow seams and returned to the surface through narrow passages.  Does that justify the use of child labor in mines?  Why, or why not?   

Which photo, included in this chapter, is the most disturbing?  What makes it so?  

Which video, included in this chapter, is the most disturbing?  What makes it so? 

Do you think the seven dwarfs - in the story of "Snow White" - might have been miners when they were children?  Why, or why not?

0 Question or Comment?
click to read or comment
2 Questions 2 Ponder
click to read and respond
0 It's Awesome!
vote for your favorite

Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2012

Updated Last Revision: Nov 10, 2015

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"CHILD MINERS - THEN and NOW" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 01, 2012. Jan 19, 2020.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips