10 Iconic Photographs That Captured the World’s Imagination


'Cotton Mill Worker'

cotton mill girl
This photo of a girl of 12 or 13 who worked at a cotton mill in North Carolina was taken by Lewis Hine. Hine's pictures were instrumental in the passage of laws restricting child labor in the U.S.A. Lewis Hine/J. Paul Getty Museum

In the early 20th century, it wasn't unusual for very young children to work very hard — and very dangerous — jobs. In 1908, investigative photographer Lewis Hine set out to capture images of impoverished kids in perilous work environments on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization working to reform child labor in the U.S.

Hine often pretended to be an industrial photographer, or even a Bible peddler, to gain access to his subjects. At a cotton mill in North Carolina, he came upon a small girl with braided hair and a worn dress working at a loom [source: Time].

The cotton mill girl was just one of many children that Hine photographed using his duplicity and wiles. Across the country, he made pictures of kids, often younger than 10, slopping through grease, hawking newspapers, working with dangerous machinery and stomping through dark, musty mines [source: Taylor].

Those pictures made a difference. Thanks to Hine and the National Child Labor Committee, angry citizens and their legislators stepped up and passed laws that provided more protection for young workers. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act passed, prohibiting the employment of any persons under the age of 16, a law still in place today.