Mr. Coal's Story
This is a story told by the National Child Labor Committee to persuade Americans to support the regulation and
elimination of child labor. We have scanned this story from the original Child Labor Bulletin, part of
The Ohio State University Library collections. The article appears in vol 2 no.2 and reprinted in vol 3 no.2, also available online on Google Books.
Mr. Coal's Story
Our warm friend, Mr. Coal of Pennsylvania, tells us:
I lay snug and comfortable for many years, way down in the middle of a large mountain, until I grew into
a great big coal.
One day a sharp steel pick cut through
the rocks and I was pulled down from my bed and fell to the ground.
All was so dark, I could have seen nothing if it had not been
for tiny lamps which two men wore in their caps. The men were
miners, digging for coal.
My former neighbor, old Mr. Wise Coal,
soon fell beside me. He used to tell about the great world outside,
where every one, to be really good, must make someone else happy.
When he heard the picks he said, "We are going there now,
and we will make some children and grownÂups warm and comfortable.
But I am sad when I think of the little boys who must help take
us there. Watch to see what happens and you will understand."
A coal car, drawn by mules, came along.
I thought they must he men, who threw us in and drove the mules;
but on looking closely I found that one of them was a boy about
12 years old. My companion shook his head. "It is only half
past seven o'clock in the morning. Boys of his age should be eating
breakfast and getting ready for school," he said.
Driving through the mine we came to a
big trap door. "When men work in mines, air is forced in
to them from the outside," said old Mr. Wise Coal. "The
trap doors must be kept closed so that the air will go where the
men are working. Boys open and close these trap doors for the
cars to pass from one chamber to the other. They are called trapper
|"Look back and see how lonely this
one is" I heard him cough and tell one of the drivers
that medicine didn't help him anymore. The mine was so damp, he
always got a new cold."
The next trapper boy we passed was John.
John wanted to go to school but his parents made him work. They
didn't know that he could earn better wages later, if he went
to school now. The trap door was the nearest thing to a blackboard
he had, so he drew pictures on that. John liked birds, and
couldn't see any outÂofÂdoors, because it was after
dark evenings when he left the mine. So he drew them on the trap
door, and played they were alive and he wrote on the door, "Don't
scare the birds!" and this was all the fun he had.
When we passed a place where the roof
had caved in, old Mr. Wise Coal shuddered. "I hope no boys
and men are buried there." he said, "they often get
killed in that way."
As we came out of the mine we met James.
They call him "a greaser" because he has to keep the
axles of the car greased so that they run smoothly. He had grease
all over himself and his clothes.
Next we met Harry. He does odd jobs about
the mine. When he first started at work, he wanted to go to school,
but now he does not care. He is too tired to think about it, even.
At last our car full of coal came to
a building, called a "coal breaker." Here the coal was
put into great machines, and broken into pieces the right size
|Then the pieces rattled down through
long chutes, at which the breaker boys sat. These boys picked
out the pieces of slate and stone that cannot burn. It's like
sitting in a coal bin all day long, except that the coal its always
movie;, and clattering and cuts their fingers. Sometimes the boys
wear lamps in their caps to help them see through the thick dust.
They bend over the chutes until their backs ache, and they get
tired and sick because they have to breathe coal dust instead
of good, pure air.
Hundreds and hundreds of boys work in
the mines and in the breakers from early morning until evening,
instead of going to school and playing outdoors.
Do you suppose the little fellows sitting
all alone in the deep coal mine, or bending over the chutes, ever
think of the merry children sitting around the burning coal?
This bright room is better than the dark
mine. The happy talk is better than the silence. The warm fire
glow is better than the cold.
Do you suppose that the happy children
made warm by the coal ever think of the boys who helped to get
it ready for them?
Do they think of the children who
make medicine bottles in glass factories and cotton
dresses in mills and tenement homes?
What can these children who play around
the fire do to help the boys and girls who work in mines and factories?
They can do this:
They can ask their fathers and mothers
to make laws to help these other children. Fathers and mothers
can make laws. They know how to make laws that will kelp children.
They also know how to make sure that the laws are obeyed.
Sometimes fathers and mothers are so
busy taking care of their own children-the children round
the fire at home-that they forget the others-the children
in mines and factories. But we must not let them forget the other
children The most important matter in the world is, that
all the children-all the children -- shall grow up healthy
and intelligent and good.