Working in the Coal Mines

b BALL children s
Click on image to view larger

The Ball children pictured in this school photo grew up near Athens, Ohio where their father, George, supported his family as a coal miner.


Ethel Ball was the oldest sibling and worked as a schoolteacher.  Based on Ethel’s outfit matching the woman behind her I suspect she was teaching when this photo was taken. I bet her brothers loved that. ha!


The eldest Ball boys, Alvin, Edward (referred to as Dad in the image), and Emery, labored in the coal mines from the time they were in their teens.  Child labor in the mines was a regular practice and many boys got started much younger than the Ball brothers.

Child Labor_genealogytrails_athens_ohio
Athens, Ohio ~

Boys eight to twelve years old were employed by the mining companies.  These children were referred to as breaker boys because it was their job to break off impurities such as bits of clay and rock from the ore.

Boys in the Breakers ~ courtesy Ohio State University

Boys who worked in the mines faced many perils.  The lucky ones suffered cuts, blisters, burns, rashes, and lung ailments.  The not so lucky faced amputation of their fingers, hands, or feet due to the swift-moving conveyor belt system and some were crushed or suffocated by loads of coal moving down the chutes.

This school photo gives me hope that Alvin, Edward, and Emery weren’t subjected to these dangerous working conditions at such an early age.  Breaker boys didn’t attend school because they had to be at the coal mine from daybreak to sundown.

1920 BALL FAMILY_w_names
photo from ancestry

The above photo was captured about 1920. Just one year later the children’s father, George, died as a result of an accident in the mines.  Alvin, 23, witnessed a railroad tie strike his father in the head, breaking his neck.  The grief-stricken young man had to deliver the tragic news to his family.  Ethel always said she never forget the sight of her brother, head hung low, walking toward the house alone and how she knew something was terribly wrong before he spoke a word.

Despite their father’s tragic death Alvin and Emery continued to earn a living as coal miners.  Edward might have for a time but by 1930 he was working as a machine operator in a forging factory.

sBALL Helen Louise_Edwards_daughter_wrote_on_back
Helen Louise Ball abt. 1940 ~ from ancestry

The author of the writing on the back of this photo was Edward Ball’s only child Helen Louise, hence her identifying Edward as Dad.

sBALL Edward Ted with young brothers in the tree_from ancestryphoto from ancestry

I’ll leave you with one last photo of Edward, about 17 years old, with his younger brothers, Gilbert and Clifford, hanging out in the tree behind him.  He looks like a character out of the British Peaky Blinders television series.

Click here to view the Find A Grave memorial pages for the Ball siblings.

Census records
Find a Grave
Ohio death records
The Boys in the Breakers
The Breaker Boys
Athen’s County Histories ~ Breaker Boys

bBALL children BACK

6 thoughts on “Working in the Coal Mines

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