Child Labor in the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution transformed Great Britain into the export capital of the world, however, the social, economic, and political effects of child labor in textile mills in the 19th century as a result of the Industrial Revolution were detrimental to Great Britain. Child labor caused an unsafe environment for the children, it lowered wages and stole jobs from adults, and caused many failed attempts from the government to try to control it. Child labor in textile mills was very demanding for the young workers.

The average child worked about 14 to 16 hours a day, from Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, which was usually a worker’s only day off, some children were forced to return to the mill and clean the machines. Boys and girls had different jobs, although both were demanding and dangerous. A boy worked as a scavenger, meaning he crawled under the whirling machines to retrieve any dropped cotton. His hair, clothing, or body could become tangled and caught in the machine resulting in severe injury or death.

A girl’s job was a piecer, she would repair broken thread. In 1841, a study showed that one child walked an average of 30 miles a day from just walking around the mill doing his or her job. James Myles, a young mill boy wrote, “The factory owners were in charge of feeding their workers, and this was not a priority to them. Workers were often forced to eat while working, and dust and dirt contaminated their food. The workers ate oat cakes for breakfast and dinner. They were rarely given anything else. Although the food was often unfit for consumption, the workers ate it due to severe hunger.”

The excessive labor mixed with the dark working conditions and lack of food caused the children to become sluggish. This was unacceptable to the men in charge and often resulted in unfair punishment to the children. For example, Jonathon Downe said in 1832, “When I was seven years old I went to work at Mr. Marshall’s factory at Shrewsbury . If a child became sleepy, the mill owner touches the child on the shoulder and says ‘come here’. In the corner of the room there is an iron cistern filled with water. He takes the boy by the legs and dips him in the cistern, and then sends him back to work.”

These young children were put into an unsafe environment and were forced to work too much. The young boys and girls of the mills started very young and were the majority of the workers. A study was done in Manchester , England in 1819 showing that 49.9 percent of all mill workers started when they were under 10 years old. It also concluded that 27.9 percent of mill workers started working between the ages of 10 and 13. This means that 77.8 percent of all mill workers started working when they were 13 years old or younger. The same study in Manchester , England in 1819 also showed that 51.3 percent of all the employed workers were under 18 years old.

In 1833, Manchester examined the mills again and discovered that 57 percent of all mill employees were under 18 years old and there was over 4,000 children employed in mills in Manchester alone. From 1819 to 1833, child labor in mills continued to grow. Cotton mills and cotton production also grew in the early 19th century. In 1790, there were only two mills in Manchester , England . However, by 1821 there were 66 mills in Manchester , England . With child labor growing and the number of mills growing, cotton production soared in the 19th century.

In 1785, about 40 million yards of cotton was produced, but in 1850 over 2 billion yards of cotton was produced. Cotton production increased about 1.96 billion yards per year from 1785 to 1850. By 1834, cotton was 48 percent of all Great Britain’s exports. The increase in cotton production increased the need for child laborers. Although cotton production benefited Great Britain , the child labor of the cotton production hurt Great Britain . There were two types of child laborers; free labor children and parish apprentice children.

Free labor children were orphans that the mill owners hired to work in their mills in return for housing and food. Free labor children were not paid with money. This was bad for the British people because instead of paying their worker, a mill owner could hire an orphan in your place for free because the housing and food cost less for a mill owner. A parish apprentice child was a child of a poor family that could use extra money. They were paid very little and worked long grueling hours. Hiring children was easy for the mill owners, but hurt the rest of the working or unemployed citizens.

Children were paid significantly less than adults, therefore mill owners were much more likely to hire a child than an adult. A child would be paid 3 pence a day and a man would be paid 15 shillings a day. One shilling is worth 12 pence, therefore a child was paid 3 pence compared to an adult who was paid 180 pence. This meant that an adult was paid 166% more than a child and made 60 times the money of what a child made. Due to children being hired before adults, many adult’s jobs were stolen. This caused unemployment for many adults and underpayment for young workers, which was very bad for Great Britain and its citizens.

Due to the rapid growth of child labor and the dangerous environment it provided for the children, the government started creating laws to regulate it. In 1819, the Cotton Factories Regulation Act stated that the minimum working age was 9 years old and the maximum working hours for children was 12 hours each day. In 1833, this act was revised and now stated that a child 9 to 12 years old could work 9 hours each day and 48 hours each week; a child 13 to 17 years old could work 12 hours each day and 69 hours each week; and children ages 9 to 11 had to receive two hours of education every day.

The effect of this law was that in 1833, 57 percent of the mill workers were children and by 1835, only 43 percent of the mill workers were children. Therefore, in five years, 14 percent of the workforce switched from children to adults. In 1840, a member of the House of Commons, Lord Ashley said, “The future hopes of a country must, under God, be laid in the character and condition of its children; however right it may be to attempt, it is almost fruitless to expect, the reformation of its adults; as the sapling has been bent, so will it grow.

The first step towards a cure is factory legislation. My grand object is to bring these children within the reach of education.” Lastly, in 1847 the government passed another act stating that no women or children under 18 years of age could work more than 10 hours each day. The factory act included children in textile mills. After four laws set by the British government and vigorous attempts to stop it, child labor still thrived in Great Britain . Although the government created regulations to stop child labor, it continued to grow into the mid 19th century. In 1841, the British census revealed that the textile industry had just under 107,000 children employed.

There was 44,833 boys and 62,131 girls recorded. The number of employed children in textile mills jumped to 241,500 in 1851 with 93,800 boys and 147,700 girls employed. In ten years from 1841 to 1851, about 40,700 more children became employed in the textile mills. In 1840, only 4.7 percent of the textile mill workers were under 13 years old, however, by 1856 6.5 percent of the textile mill workers were under 13 years old. By 1869, the number had risen again so that about 10.4 percent of textile mill workers were under 13 years old.

Although the government tried to regulate child labor, they failed. Child labor in textile mills during the Industrial Revolution was not good for Great Britain in the 19th Century. The children employed in the mills were abused and unsafe at work due to the awful working conditions and were significantly underpaid. Child labor hurt the working adults as it stole jobs from them and forced their children to work. Lastly, child labor rose under many attempts by the government to stop it. Child labor affected Great Britain very negatively during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century.