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  Nippers p44

Nippers (sometimes called “trappers”) had to open and close the heavy wooden door that sealed the mine. This was usually a boy’s first job inside the mine itself and it was a difficult and dangerous one. The mine door had to remain tightly closed, except when coal cars came in and out. Otherwise, the fresh air being pumped down to the miners would escape.
When the tunnels were built on a slope, coal cars came hurtling down the track. The nippers had to listen carefully for their rumbling because it was the only signal to open the door and let the cars race through. If they didn't hear the cars coming in time, the cars would crash into the doors. Sitting alone in the dark silence made falling asleep almost inevitable for many nippers. One sleepy nipper woke up just as the coal car was approaching. He jumped up to open the door but didn’t make it in time. He was crushed to death as the four-ton car crashed through the door.
Positioned in such a quiet spot at the head of the tunnel, the nipper was often the first to hear the groaning noises that came from the rock just before a cave-in. It was up to him to warn the miners below so that they could escape. Nippers were paid sixty-five to seventy-five cents per day.

Nippers worked inside the mines opening the doors for mine cars like these.

When full of coal, mine cars could weigh as much as four tons.

The heavy door into the mine had to stay shut so that oxygen being pumped down to the miners wouldn't escape.

It was hard for nippers to stay alert as they sat alone in the dark, waiting for coal cars to come through.

Nippers had to be quick to open the door and get out of the way of the oncomming mine car.

  Child Labor in the Early 20th Century
See child labor in the early 20th century through the words and pictures of Lewis Hine.

Mr. Coal's Story
A story created by the National Child Labor Committee to expose the conditions under which children were working in the coal mines.

No Rest for the Weary: Children in the Coal Mines
Read a first-hand account of what life was like for children working in the mines of Pennsylvania.

Little Miners
From the U.S. Department of Labor's publication "A Pictorial Walk Through the 20th Century," pictures and descriptions of children working in the mines.

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