An Honest Day’s Work

The New York Public Library has an excellent collection of images by Lewis Wickes Hine (Documentary Photographs, 1905-1938). The photoset focuses mainly on labor and immigrant life in New York (and throughout the East Coast). The images seem to earnestly embody all of the early 1900s cliches (newspaper boys, tenement baseball, iron workers on buildings) you could shake a stick at. That said, I think the photos are amazing and show the growth and development of a country and a group of people. Some of my favorite images below and the full set can be seen here.


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All images via The New York Public Library.

Comments on “An Honest Day’s Work

    Paul H. Barickman on January 2, 2010 6:40 PM:

    Thanks for this tribute to a bygone era. The working man (and woman) and his crafts can often be an invisible part of the economy, yet you gave us a glimpse of the heroic past.

    Michael Williams on January 2, 2010 6:44 PM:

    Also, I ment to mention that there are a lot of child labor photos in here (especially in mills in the south) which illustrate that this isn’t all just a “good times” playing baseball…


    nick on January 2, 2010 6:52 PM:

    In the mills… are they (children) cleaning out the looms? Small hands needed for that job. Having said that, I’ve never actually seen a photo of the job in action.

    Doug Richardson on January 2, 2010 7:05 PM:

    Thanks for a great find. Some of these would turn an OSHA inspector’s eyes into pinwheels.

    I love the shirt on the guy in the lead photo.

    Chris Huck on January 3, 2010 12:20 PM:

    I really love old photos of skyscraper construction. It’s so easy to take for granted how amazing it truly is that these buildings were built when they were. Given the state of technology of the time and the bravery (could easily be mistaken for insanity) it takes to lean out over an edge like the guy in the bottom row of photos when you’re hundreds of feet off the ground. The buildings in the background of the photo really put his position in space into perspective.

    I agree with Doug, many of these construction photos and a lot of old factory photos would blow OSHA’s mind and people thought so little of it back then. “Just part of the job.”

    ATrueGolfer on January 3, 2010 1:20 PM:

    This is the America that gave ticker-tape parades to its British Open Champions.

    Paul on January 3, 2010 5:03 PM:

    Great photos essay – My Dad could have been one of those kids playing marbles or what’ever on the sidewalk – he definitely sold newspapers! Fantastic photos! Thanks.

    DrinkMoloko on January 3, 2010 5:16 PM:

    “…Also, I meant to mention…” (as I know you’re a stickler)

    K&T on January 3, 2010 9:39 PM:

    Good Post!

    I have some books of Lewis W Hine, but long time I try to find where I can get reproduction photos of him.

    I’ll order one. Thank you for your info.

    GiantShips on January 4, 2010 7:05 PM:

    A plethora of Hines’ photos can be found at, along with tons of other old time images dating as far back as the 1860’s.

    Isaac Buie on January 4, 2010 8:31 PM:

    One of my favorite artists, for his subject matter and photographic craftsmanship, his images end up being both tough and elegant. Doug’s comment is hilarious by the way. Thanks!

    Matt on January 4, 2010 10:33 PM:

    Thanks Michael for these and your comment regarding these not just being “good times”. The Hines photos of cotton mills, glass plating factories, and newsboys are heartbreaking. Hines also interviewed his subjects and those kids were killed by trolleys, beaten by newspaper vendors, and served lookout for whorehouses.

    Ashely Adams : Online Printing on January 5, 2010 1:44 AM:

    This is such an interesting scrapbook from a generation past. Makes you aware of the past and that, in my honest opinion, is not a bad thing for anybody. The theme is inspiring. Nice find.

    Jeff on January 5, 2010 10:35 AM:

    Interesting to note that almost every one of the people in the photos are wearing hats – even the children. Classic, stylish hats and not a backwards/sideways baseball cap like you see nowadays. Great photos!

    HOT + COOL on January 7, 2010 10:27 AM:

    I still remember the days when I would visit my grandfather as a kid and he would wakeup at 5am put the coffee pot on and out the door for a hard days work. He would return at 5pm and open a “cold one” and put on some Buck Owens or Hank Williams Sr…

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