Lewis W. Hine
Born Lewis Wickes Hine on September 26, 1874, to Douglas and Sarah Hine in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Lewis went on to study at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and New York University. As a teacher, he began encouraging his students to use photography to document their studies.
On several occasions, he took his sociology class to Ellis Island to document immigrants as they were being admitted to America. Lewis became overwhelmed and at that point realized he needed to photograph the realities of child labor, tenement living, and the immigrant's hardships.
Lewis left his teaching position and began working for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), and spent the next decade documenting abuses of child labor. He was aware it was dangerous work and began using disguises. Sometimes he was a fire inspector, a Bible salesman, and even a factory inspector.
Being clever and without being obvious, he would measure the children's height by using the buttons on his coat. At this time, children had to be twelve years old to work in factories but there was little
Statistics of Child Labor
Between 1880-1900, children ages five to ten worked in coal mines, cotton mills, canning factories, and selling newspapers on the street. They worked 10-14 hours per day in poor conditions with no heat or air conditioning, using sharp tools—all the time suffering abuse from their bosses. Accidents were common primarily due to their age.
These children were in the web of poverty along with their families. They would forever lose their childhood and education often; they would suffer disabilities lasting their lifetime. With photographs being published in the newspapers, the public became aware of the atrocities of children.
In his lifetime, Lewis traveled over 50,000 miles photographing child labor, immigrants' poor conditions, and the building of the Empire State Building. Lewis risked his life photographing the steel workers. He worked in a unique basket 1000 feet above Fifth Avenue. He told reporters later he hung above with nothing below but a sheer drop of a quarter mile.
Lewis went on to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In 1936 he was selected as a photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Project. However, the public grew concerned about other problems in their lives, and funding was drying up.
Lewis' funds were severely distressed, and he lost his home and filed for unemployment. He was so broke that when his wife died in 1919, he could not pay for her funeral and had to rely on her family to cover burial expenses. Hine died a year later alone and destitute, but what he accomplished will forever be a part of history.
He had dedicated his life to documenting the problems of the American people. Lewis is considered one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Without his powerful photos, child labor might not have shown the public the wrongs of child labor.
Lewis and his wife are buried in Ouleoat ValleyCemetery, New York.
Child Labor Act
In 1904 the National Child Labor Act was established, yet it took another thirty years before laws were put in place. And the official Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was law. Today, agricultural workers lag behind the rules. They can work at age twelve with no limits on overtime and no benefits. The restrictions do not apply if they are working on a family farm.
In 1916, the Keating-Owen Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Wilson. However, in 1918, the Supreme Court determined it to be unconstitutional because it overstepped government power to regulate interstate commerce. Thankfully, the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) changed that. Parts of the Act limited the age of boys to 16 and girls to 18.
Lewis W. Hine Collections
Photographs taken by Lewis W. Hine can be found at
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Albin O. Kuhn Library, Baltimore, Maryland
- George Eastman House, 900 East Ave., Rochester, N.Y.
- New York Public Library
- Library of Congress
- International Photographers Hall of Fame, St. Louis, Mo.