A spinner in the Mollahan Mills, Newberry, S.C. Dec. 3/08. Witness, Sara R. Hine. Location: Newberry, South Carolina / Photo by Lewis W. Hine.
Hine grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As a young man he had to care for himself, and working at a furniture factory gave him first-hand knowledge of industrial workers' harsh reality. Eight years later he matriculated at the University of Chicago and met Professor Frank A. Manny, whom he followed to New York to teach at the Ethical Culture School and continue his studies at New York University. As a faculty member at the Ethical Culture School Hine was introduced to photography. From 1904 until his death he documented a series of sites and conditions in the USA and Europe. In 1906 he became a photographer and field worker for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). Undercover, disguised among other things as a Bible salesman or photographer for post-cards or industry, Hine went into American factories. His research methodology was based on photographic documentation and interviews. Together with the NCLC he worked to place the working conditions of two million American children onto the political agenda. The NCLC later said that Hine's photographs were decisive in the 1938 passage of federal law governing child labor in the United States. In 1918 Hine left the NCLC for the Red Cross and their work in Europe. After a short period as an employee, he returned to the United States and began as an independent photographer. One of Hine's last major projects was the series Men at Work, published as a book in 1932. It is a homage to the worker that built the country, and it documents such things as the construction of the Empire State Building. In 1940 Hine died abruptly after several years of poor income and few commissions. Even though interest in his work was increasing, it was not until after his death that Hine was raised to the stature of one of the great photographers in the history of the medium.