Paddy O’Graddy began work in a breaker when he was eight years old. The legal age for working in Pennsylvania at the beginning got the twentieth century was 12, but documents could be manufactured, and his family desperately needed the income he could earn. It was the job of the boys in the breaker to extract the rocks and slate from the stream of coal that cascaded rapidly through the breaker on the way to the rail siding. The boys who survived the twelve-hour days in the breaker could go down into the mines and earn more money when they became 14. The work was dangerous, the overseer mean, and Paddy still had years to go before he could become a miner—an occupation that was killing his father.
The O’Grady family was like many others from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Poland, Italy, Germany, and Slovakia. They were ill-paid and expendable but indispensable to America’s coal industry. Paddy’s story is the story of their struggle and triumph.