The investigations of the famous American photographer on the underage condition of the poors and immigrants in the United States of the early 1900s

in the photos preserved by the Library of Congress

As in the film by Sergio Leone "Once Upon a Time in America": national preview at "la Casa di Vetro" in Milan of the exhibition, of about 60 images, dedicated to the living and working conditions of the children of immigrants (mostly Europeans, and among them the many Italians) and of the poorest social classes  in the United States in the early 1900s, realized with the most beautiful images preserved in the Library of Congress archives taken by Lewis Wickes Hine, the great American master of social photography, of portrait and reportage that inspired the American authors of the 1930s (primarily Dorothea Lange) in the service of the government of the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The shots are taken from the archives, donated to the US government, of the National Child Labor Committee, or NCLC, the main private non-profit organization that is the protagonist of the national movement of child labor reform at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His mission was to promote "the rights, awareness, dignity, well-being and education of children and young people in relation to work."

Lewis W. Hine realizes the images as investigative photographer for the NCLC between 1908 and 1924. A dangerous job that often made him victim of threats of violence or even death by vigilantes and foremen of the factories or labor farms. To enter mines and factories, Hine often pretended to be a fireman, a postcard seller or industrial photographer who portrayed machinery. His research leads us through a separated universe of young and very young people engaged in the daily struggle to realize the American dream. A dream that seems to be further and further. Child labor, in fact, underpaid and in great demand (18% of the American workforce in the early 1900s is composed of children under the age of 16), takes away opportunities for fathers who find themselves unemployed and then dependent on the work of their children. Disgruntled and frustrated, those same fathers feel themselves like a failure and often abandon their families, forcing their own children, increasingly condemned to work as adults, into new efforts.


With a photojournalist logic, but with a portraitist aesthetic, Hine tells us about everyday life both at work and in the private life of millions of kids, children of immigrants and of the poorest social classes. It shows us work in the fields, factories, mines, on the street, in homes. He follows them while they recover from the dumps all that can be useful, to be resold or to be burn to warm up. He takes shots of them at schools when they are lucky enough to be able to attend them. Investigate their pastimes - the games on the sidewalks, the cinema, the billiards, ... And finally he shows them to us while they steal or stand on street corners in violent bands competing for neighborhoods or fight when the favorite baseball games teams play in stadiums, giving rise to the modern form of violence among fans.

For the first time in Italy, in addition to schools, also private individuals can visite the exhibition on the internet: it is possible, for those who cannot reach "la Casa di Vetro", to view the selection of images on their home screens paying a fee based on the number of spectators (minimum cost € 20.00 for 4 spectators) via a reserved link and a time password. It is part of the fee a pdf (the same available in the exhibition) that describes not only the images but also their context.

Curated by:

Alessandro Luigi Perna


A production of:

Eff&Ci - Facciamo Cose (We Do Things)


Pictures of:

Library of Congress

For schools:

in the morning by appointment with possibility

of guided tours and commented photo-projections

guided tours - € 8,00

commented photo-projections - € 10,00


How to get to la Casa di Vetro:

  • MM3 - Piazzale Lodi stop + bus 91, 92

  • Railway link - Porta Vittoria stop

  • Bus 90/91, 93 - viale Molise stop

  • Trolleybus 92 - via Costanza Arconati stop

  • Tram 12 - Piazzale Martini stop

  • Bus 66 - Piazzale Martini stop

  • Bus 84 - via Maestri Campionesi stop


Access to the reserved area 

background photo of the page ©  Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection