Lewis Hine and The Baddest of Bad-Ass Messengers

Sure a little kid would probably be better off in school than working 13-hour days as a messenger while smoking a pipe, but damn if this kid isn’t the biggest bad ass I’ve ever seen on a bike.

Photojournalist Lewis Hine played an integral role in the creation of child labor laws in America. Hine took a post with the National Child Labor Committee in 1908 and spent the next ten years documenting child laborers and their working conditions around America. Though real child labor reform didn’t come about until 1938 (thanks as much to the Great Depression as anything) Hine’s photos nonetheless helped show America the destitute, exploitative conditions in which young children were forced to work.

As it turns out, Hines came across a lot of young bike messengers in the course of his work. As a by-product of his work for the NCLC, Hine created an amazing record of early American bike messengers and some of them, like the one of the aforementioned bad ass, are really great. Here are just a few of his fantastic portraits that I found online:


Howard the Delivery Boy: 1913.” This 13-year old delivery boy worked from 9:30 am to 10:30 pm every day!


A Western Union messenger

It’s interesting that while Lewis Hine’s messenger portraits contributed to early labor reform efforts, contemporary bike messengers still often face unfair working conditions almost a century later. Sure modern messengers aren’t 12-year olds forced to work 13-hour days, but many courier companies still shortchange their messengers by hiring them on as contract workers so they don’t have to offer essential benefits like health insurance.

8 Responses to Lewis Hine and The Baddest of Bad-Ass Messengers

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