Teach PA History
Mr. Coal's Story: An Appeal to End Child Labor
What to Know
Teaching Time
2 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
Elementary School
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
  • Science and Technology
Historical Period
  • The Emergence of Modern Pennsylvania - 1901-1928
Pennsylvania's coal mines thrived in the early decades of the 20th century. To fill all the jobs necessary to mine coal, companies employed thousands of boys, some as young as 7 or 8. Despite laws prohibiting the employment of children under the age of 14 for industrial work, families willingly sent and companies willingly employed young boys. Not only did full-time work prevent these boys from obtaining an education, they were subjected to harsh and dangerous working conditions that killed or permanently injured countless numbers. In this lesson, students will be introduced to child labor within the context of early 20th century Pennsylvania coal mining. Students will read "Mr. Coal's Story". Lewis Hine wrote this children's story based on his startling photos documenting the working conditions of boys in Pennsylvania mines. Students will analyze the story and pictures to learn about this type of child labor. Next, students will listen to the tragic story of Patrick Kearney, a 9 1/2 year-old boy who was crushed by machinery in a coal breaker in 1908. Finally, students will imagine living in 1912 and write a letter to a state legislator persuading him (women were first elected to the state legislature in 1922) to make changes to mine safety or child labor laws.


Students will be able to:

  1. 1. Analyze "Mr. Coal's Story" about the conditions of child labor in coal mines.

  2. 2. Synthesize reasons why child labor laws should have been changed in that era.

Standards Alignment

  • History

    8.1.3. D. Understand historical research
    8.1.3 B. Develop an understanding of historical sources.
    8.2.3. A. Understand the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.2.5. A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.3.5. F. Read and respond to nonfiction and fiction including poetry and drama.
    1.4.5. C. Write persuasive pieces with a clearly stated position or opinion and supporting detail, citing sources when needed.
    1.6.5. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.5. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.
    1.6.5.A. Listen to others

  • Science and Technology

    3.1.4. B. Know that natural and human-made objects are made up of parts.
    3.6.4. C. Know physical technologies of structural design, finance, production, marketing, research and design.
    3.7.4. A. Explore the use of basic tools, simple materials, and techniques to safely solve problems.
    3.8.4. A. Know that people select, create, and use science and technology and that they are limited by social and physical restraints.
    3.8.4. B. Know how human ingenuity and technological resources satisfy specific human needs and improve the quality of life.

Back to Top