In 1918, Thomas Bubb noticed an epidemic among American youth at the end of World War II. So many children were bored and deciding that school just wasn’t for them. He took to the streets and asked the local children if they would be willing to work on his factory floor for 11 cents a month.
Children were so excited at the idea of working on an assembly line or sweeping the lead paint chips off the floor of the asbestos-filled factory coradors. Kids were thrilled to be working and not wasting their time with school, that they viewed the money entirely as an added perk.
In a local newspaper at the time, Thomas was quoted as saying,“When I see those children’s happy, dirty little faces walking into the factory every day, I know that I’ve done something amazing for the kids in this great city. When I yell at them to take a break on their own time, I know that they are feeling like Christmas morning on the inside.”
While most of the children that worked in the factory didn’t last more than a few years before quitting after being diagnosed with emphysema, several of the children were employees of BMP all the way through adulthood. A small portion of those even retired with the company and received no retirement package.
“It was either go to school and learn about science and math, which will never come in handy, or gain experience in the field.”said 10 year-old, Jimmy Totter, in an article from 1921. “I think I made the right choice. Mr. Bubb even sold me some old broken shoe strings that he couldn’t use anymore – at HALF price! Just his way of saying ‘You’re doing great work, Jimmy. I appreciate your help in making me rich.'”
After seeing the success BMP was having, it wasn’t long before child labor became more of the norm among local stores and factories. With more and more children seeing the benefit of working as early as possible, the market soon became saturated with children looking for employment.
To this day, Bubb Mental Photography has employed over 18,000 child workers. Children who, without BMP’s help, would have gone to school and come home penniless and clean.
In 1955, during his retirement speech, Thomas Bubb looked out over sea of children and said, “You have not only made me the happiest person in Pennsylvania, but also the wealthiest. I am so honored to have so many of your tiny backs to carry the bulk of my company’s success over the years. And just know, you will always have a job at Bubb Mental Photography as long as you keep your faces dirty and never, EVER, smile or look me in the eye.”