The September 1906 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine recounts a story once told of an old Native American chieftain.  The chieftain was given a tour of the modern city of New York.  On this excursion, he saw the soaring heights of the grand skyscrapers and the majesty of the Brooklyn Bridge.  He observed the comfortable masses gathered in amusement at the circus and the poor huddled in tenements.  Upon the completion of the chieftain's journey, several Christian men asked him, "What is the most surprising thing you have seen?" The chieftain replied slowly with three words: "little children working."
 Although the widespread presence of laboring children may have surprised the chieftain at the turn of the 20th century, this sight was common in the United States at the time.  From the Industrial Revolution through the 1930s was a period in which children worked in a wide variety of occupations.  Now, nearly 110 years after the story of the chieftain was told, the overt presence of widespread child labor in New York or any other American city no longer exists.  The move away from engaging children in economically productive labor occurred within the last 100 years.  As numerous authors on the subject have remarked, "Children have always worked."  In the 18th century, the arrival of a newborn to a rural family was viewed by the parents as a future beneficial laborer and an insurance policy for old age.  At an age as young as 5, a child was expected to help with farm work and other household chores.  The agrarian lifestyle common in America required large quantities of hard work, whether it was planting crops, feeding chickens, or mending fences.  Large families with less work than children would often send children to another household that could employ them as a maid, servant, or plowboy.  Most families simply could not afford the costs of raising a child from birth to adulthood without some compensating labor.
 One of the authors who noted that "children have always worked" is Walter Trattner.  During early human history when tribes wandered the land, children participated in the hunting and fishing.  When these groups separated into families, children continued to work by caring for livestock and crops.  The medieval guild system introduced children to the trades.  The subsequent advance of capitalism created new social pressures.  For example, in 1575, England provided for the use of public money to employ children in order to "accustom them to labor" and "afford a prophylactic against vagabonds and paupers."  An Englishman stated, with regret, that "a quarter of the mass of mankind are children, males and females under seven years old, from whom little labor is to be expected."  This statement was consistent with the Puritan belief that put work at the center of a moral life.  This belief shaped a citizenry that grew to praise work and scorn idleness.  The growth of the Industrial Revolution and manufacturing, however, provided the greatest opportunity for society to avoid the perceived problem of the idle child.  Now that more work was less complex because of the introduction of machines, children had more potential job opportunities.  For example, one industrialist in 1790 proposed building textile factories around London to employ children to "prevent the habitual idleness and degeneracy" that were destroying the community.  With the advances in machinery, not only could society avoid the issue of unproductive children, but also the children themselves could easily create productive output with only their rudimentary skills.
 Similarly, in America, productive outlets were sought for children.  Colonial laws modeled after British laws sought to prevent children from becoming a burden on society.  At the age of 13, orphan boys were sent to apprentice in a trade while orphan girls were sent into domestic work.  Generally, children, except those of Northern merchants and Southern plantation owners, were expected to be prepared for gainful employment.  In other locations, the primary motivation in employing children was not about preventing their idleness but rather about satisfying commercial interests and the desire to settle the vast American continent.  Regardless of the motivation, a successful childhood was seen as one that developed the child's financially productive capacity.
(The article has been picked from www.bls.gov and has been edited for use.)