The Keating Owen Child Labor Act of 1916 aimed to prevent the exploitation of children by banning the sale and shipment of goods produced by workers under age 16 in mines and under age 14 in factories, canneries and stores. The act also restricted children under 16 from working more than eight hours daily between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. and limited them to a six-day workweek.
The act was inspired by a census in 1900, which reported that roughly two million children were employed in the United States, exposing them to poor health and environmental conditions. They were typically immigrant children living in poverty and working more than 12 hours a day. The children had a high risk of injuries and illness and sacrificed attending school to help support their families. The act was backed in congress by Representatives Robert Latham Owen and Edward Keating and legalized by President Woodrow Wilson.
To effectively regulate child workers, the act also established a force of inspectors who could perform periodic evaluations without giving notice. The Attorney General and the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce were charged with creating an advisory board to define and update child labor regulations. However, the Supreme Court considered the act unconstitutional because the child labor agenda took advantage of the federal government's powers to regulate interstate trade.