Follow the link for more information. Breaker boys at the Eagle Hill colliery near Pottsville, Pennsylvania. A breaker boy was a coal-mining worker in the United States and United Kingdom whose job was to separate impurities from coal by hand in a coal breaker. Coal came into wide use in late 1590s in the United Kingdom after the island nation was widely deforested and a ban was placed on the harvesting of wood by Charles I of England so separate education for boys forests could be used solely by the Royal Navy.
The first function of a coal breaker is to break coal into pieces and sort these pieces into categories of nearly uniform size, a process known as breaking. The smaller lumps of coal were considered non-marketable and left in the mine. Beginning about 1830, surface processing of coal in the US began concurrent with various canal projects in Eastern Seaboard. These developments lagged behind Great Britain better matching the timing of similar developments in Continental Europe. Breaker boys in the 1880s picking slate from coal at a coal breaker in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Until about 1900, nearly all coal breaking facilities in the United States were labor-intensive.
The removal of impurities was done by hand, usually by breaker boys between the ages of eight and 12 years old. The work performed by breaker boys was hazardous. Breaker boys were forced to work without gloves so that they could better handle the slick coal. Breaker boys sort coal in an anthracite coal breaker near South Pittston, Pennsylvania, 1911. By the 1910s, the use of breaker boys was dropping because of improvements in technology, stricter child labor laws, and the enactment of compulsory education laws.