Child Labor Reforms and the National Child Labor Committee
THE GLASS HOUSE BOYS OF PITTSBURGH: LAW, TECHNOLOGY, AND CHILD LABOR, James A. Flannery, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009
15 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2010 Last revised: 6 May 2014
Date Written: December 1, 2009
As with any important historical event, the elimination of child labor in the Pittsburgh glass bottle factories in the early twentieth century was the product of a complex of intersecting forces – social, political, cultural, and economic. Child labor had been the focus of legislative reform efforts from much of the progressive era and the nation’s glass factories had been a special concern of the reformers. But, while these reform efforts had been successful in many other regions, the Pittsburgh glass bottle plants were particularly resistant to change. In Pittsburgh the progressives had to contend with a group of glass manufacturers who were unusually well organized in opposition to reform and a political culture that was historically corrupt and conservative. In particular, however, the chief obstacle to reform was the men of the glass workers’ union in Pittsburgh, the Glass Bottle Blowers’ Association. Unlike virtually all other unions of the period, the skilled glass workers of Western Pennsylvania staunchly opposed child labor reform and fought desperately to keep the glass house boys hard at work, day and night, in the region’s glass bottle plants. As in other industrial areas, the glass manufacturers in Pittsburgh also opposed child labor reform, and, as in other areas the families of the child workers, needing the added wages to survive, actively worked to subvert many of the reform efforts. But in Western Pennsylvania the glass workers’ union was the key barrier to reform. As a result, child labor reform, and in particular the elimination of night work by children, was repeatedly thwarted in the state legislature and the Pittsburgh glass houses continued to exploit the labor of small children well beyond the time when it was successfully regulated in virtually every other glass-producing region in the country. The Glass House Boys of Pittsburgh recreates this singular story of reform held hostage and provides a fascinating study in the relationship between law, politics and social change.
Keywords: Child Labor, Technology, Glass, Legislation, Compulsory Education, Unions, Progressive Era, Reform, Legal History
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