Industrial Revolution - Factory Life for Kids Illustration

Industrial Revolution
Factory Life for Kids

Factory Life for Kids during the Industrial Revolution 

Today, factory conditions for workers is quite safe. It took time and many laws to achieve a working condition that was safe. But, during the Industrial Revolution, in the 1800s (19th century) and early 1900s (20th century), when factories were springing up in Europe and in America, conditions were not good at all for most workers. In fact, they were downright horrible.

Many kids in the cities did not go to school during the Industrial Revolution. Children as young as four years old worked long hours in the factories. Adult men worked 14-16 hours a day for about $10 a week. Women worked as many hours, but were paid less. Kids also worked 12-16 hours, and were paid even less than the women. Machines were loud and churned out smoke and dust. Some kids developed deformities because of the lack of exercise, sunlight, food, and sleep. The work was dangerous. The more exhausted workers became, the more dangerous it was. Workers, especially kids, got caught up in machines and lost fingers and arms. Some collapsed on the factory floor from exhaustion, and were fired for not doing their job.

 Factory workers were instructed not to leave their work station without permission. Talking was not allowed except when necessary to do their job. If they were late to work, they would not be paid. Any worker who did not follow these rules, or whatever rules were told to them, would be punished or fired. There was no way to file a protest. You did a job they way you were told to do it, or you were replaced with someone who would follow the rules.

After a long, hard day at work in the factories, most workers COULD NOT go home and take a long, hot bath to clean up and feel better before they fell into bed, exhausted. Conditions at home for many workers were also horrible. Most workers were forced to live in slums with five or six people in each room. The slum tenements were mostly made of wood. Fire was a huge fear, since water was limited. People suffered from disease, from lack of proper sanitation, lack of medical care, and lack of proper nutrition. Just the same, there were long lines of people willing to accept these horrible conditions because at least they had a job, and jobs were scarce. Not all factory conditions were this bad, but many were.

As spite as bad as things were when most factories first began operating in the 1800s (19th century), as time went on, things managed to get even worse. As business boomed, and in spite of crowding and horrible factory conditions, more and more people began to leave their farms and move to the cities in the northern part of the country, in search of jobs and what they thought would be a better life. That made crowding even worse.

 Some people lived outside the city, or away from the factories. But these residential growth areas, or suburbs, were the homes of managers, the new middle class, and owners. Most people who worked in the factories during the Industrial Revolution lived in harsh conditions because of the lack of money to pay for anything better.

Things might have gone on like this forever, but some people cried out in protest. That was the beginning of organized labor and labor unions. Unions were not successful in changing conditions at first, but they hung in there, and were ultimately successful in obtaining improvements in working conditions, as well as hours and age limits.

For Kids

What is a factory?

Read this: PowerPoint from Brunswick Schools

Inside an American Factory: 1904 (online film clips)

Factory conditions - What was life like for children in factories (PowerPoint)

Workhouses (PowerPoint)

Samuel Slater - Father of the Industrial Revolution

Child Labor Pictures - Factories early 1900's

But things got better! - a less than 2 minute animated video on the history of labor unions and what they accomplished for the workers of America. Fun and clear.