Check out these Child Bike Messengers from the Library of Congress

I’ve been poking around the “Free To Use” section of the Library of Congress website and it’s pretty cool. Lots of old photos, which are available for use and enjoyment, royalty free. So I started looking for bicycle-related shots for this bicycle-related site and found tons of interesting stuff. Like this…03892v

The Title reads… Curtin Hines. Western Union messenger #36. Fourteen years old. Goes to school. Works from four to eight P.M. Been with W[estern] U[nion] for six months, one month delivering for a drug store. “I learned a lot about the ‘Reservation’ while I was at the drug store and I go there some times now.” Location: Houston, Texas.

Whaaaa? Let’s filter this a bit…

Digging deeper I learn that the photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, was instrumental in changing the child labor laws back at the 1900’s. After stints documenting arrivals at Ellis Island and working conditions in Pittsburgh, PA, Hines was tasked by the National Child Labor Committee with documenting child labor conditions around the country. He did this from 1911 to 1916, approximately.

The Masters of The Universe knew that reform was coming, and were already ignoring existing labor laws, so the risks were high for Hines. Hines had to disguise himself and snuck into factories where child labor was taking place. If he were caught he might face physical recrimination.03757v

Earle Griffith and Eddie Tahoory, working for the Dime Messenger Service. They said they never knew when they were going to get home at night. Usually work one or more nights a week, and have worked until after midnight. They said last Christmas their office had a 9 yr. old boy running errands for them, and that he made a great deal of money from tips. They make about $7 a week and more, sometimes. Said “The office is not allowed to send us into the red light district but we go when a call sends us. Not very often.” Location: [Washington (D.C.), District of Columbia].


Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company. Said fifteen years old. Exposed to Red Light dangers. Location: Waco, Texas.

Is that a pipe in his mouth? Also note stylish seat position.


Marion Davis, Messenger #21 for Bellevue Messenger Service. Fourteen years old. “Been messenger, off and on, for two years. Not supposed to go to the Reservation under sixteen years, but I do just the same. The boss don’t care and the cops don’t stop me.” Location: Houston, Texas.

Hine’s ghostly presence blows my mind.


Danville Messengers. The smallest boy, Western Union No. 5 is only ten years old, and is working as extra boy. He said he was going to be laid off as the manager told him he was too young, but an older messenger told me the reason was that the other messengers were having him put off because he cuts into their earnings. See Hine report on Va. messengers for data about the tallest boy. Location: Danville, Virginia.


Percy Neville in the heart of the Red Light district. Just come out of one of the houses with message (which see in his hand). He said gleefully “She gimme a quarter tip.” See also Hine report on Louisiana Messengers. Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.

The National Child Labor Committee collection contains more than 5,100 photographic prints and 355 glass negatives, given to the Library of Congress in 1954 by Mrs. Gertrude Folks Zimand,  chief executive of the NCLC. Here are 64 taken by Hine.


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