July 15, 2011

In the 1800's sulfur was the main resource in the central part of Sicily.

At that time Sicily had a monopoly on sulfur, 95% of world production, and almost all of it was exported.

The European, American and Japanese chemical industries depended exclusively on Sicilian sulfur.

In 1876 about 30% of sulfur workers were children ages 7 to 15 years of age.

These children were called Carusi, which means "boys" in the Sicilian dialect.

The Carusi carried the sulfur from the tunnels, working 8-10 hours per day.

The Carusi were "rented" by the miners from the boys' parents to work in the mine for a fixed period of time.

The miners worked for the mine owner, and the Carusi worked for the miner.

The Carusi and the miners worked naked or semi naked because of the extremely hot temperatures in the mine.

Sicily's sulfur mines were located in the interior from Enna to Caltanissetta. The landscape looked like Swiss cheese.

Laws banned mines within 3 kilometers of residents, but they were ignored. Emissions from the antique fusion process burned plant life for miles around.

In the 1880s there were over 500 mines and some twenty thousand men and boys were employed in them.

In November of 1886 a new law prohibited the employment of children under age 10 in the mines, and under the age of 9 outside the mines. Few, if any mines obeyed the law and most government agencies either looked the other way or were bribed to ignore the plight of the Carusi.

In 1900 mine employment peaked at thirty eight thousand. Boys, age six to eight, carried loads of 25 to 30 kilos from deep in the mine to the surface, for a mere pittance.

They worked all day long, every day, making a dozen trips per day.

Some Carusi were said to live in the mines and hardly ever saw the sun.

In October of 1907 a law to protect women and children in the workplace was passed.

It prohibited the hire of children under the age of 14.

At the beginning of the 20th century the discovery of rich deposits of sulfur in Louisiana and Texas, combined with the discovery of synthetic sulfur, resulted in the end of most of the mining jobs.

The story of the Carusi faded into distant memory....