Coal Mining: Jobs for Boys

Figure 1.--This October 1908 photograph was captioned, "Drift Mouth, San Lick Mine, near Grafton, W. Va. Bank Boss in centre: driver on his right: trapper boy outside. Alfred, about 14. He trapped several years during vacation: said he is going to school this year: asked if it were because school is more fun he said. 'This yere hain't no fun!'.

The younger boys by the early 20th century were often employed as breaker boys or tippler boys. These were two terms for the same job. Other boys were employed as trapper boys. The breaker boys separated slate rock from the coal after it had been brought out of the shaft. Older men and injured miners might also be employed here. The breaker boys might work shifts as long as 14 to 16 hours a day. This sorting process was normally done by boys, older men, and injured miners no longer capable of doing actual mine work. Boys did not have the physical strength or endurance needed for some of the underground operations. They could be employed for lower wages. Also their smaller more nimble hands were ideally suited for sorting. Younger boys might be stationed along the elongation oi the belt to pick out the smaller bits of nferior coal, shale, or pyrite. [Hawes, p. 256.] It was, however, a dangerous job and many boys sustained a range of injuries, especially working as breaker boys who might injure their fingers and hands. The job also exposed the boys to coal dust which they breathed in damaging their lungs. Just as there were no child labor laws. Workmen's compensation did not yet exist. Other boys working in the mines were trapper boys. These were boys who opperated the various trap doors in the mines. The trap doors help maintain areas where outside air was pumped ito the mines into area where the miners wrre working. This kept them supplied with fresh air as well as keeping gases building up in other areas a way from the miners. Trap doors had to be kept must be kept closed to keep the fresh air in the areas where the miners were working rather than disappating. Boys were usually employed to man the trap doors, opening and closing them as required. This was necessary as the miners filled coal carts which then had to be moved through the mine to the surface through areas or chambers where the fresh air was not supplied.


Hawes, G.A. "Murton colliery, Durham: Coal scrubbing and washing arrangements," in Mining: A Journal Devoted to the Interests of Mines and Mining Students (1895), pp 256-257.


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Created: 1:00 AM 6/22/2008
Last updated: 1:00 AM 6/22/2008