The concept of sweatshops first emerged in American history in the nineteenth century as the United States began to industrialize. The term "sweatshop" was originally used to describe conditions in some parts of the clothing industry. It soon expanded to include a number of other industries where low-skill workers were employed for very long hours and were paid low wages, while working in poor conditions. It was common in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that sweatshop workers brought their work into their own homes. Many immigrants who came to the United States during this era worked in sweatshops, along with their entire families. There were very few government regulations that dealt with working conditions, hours, or pay during this time period, which made it possible for manufacturers to place enormous demands upon their workers. As the federal government began to pass laws to protect workers in the twentieth century, the number of sweatshops diminished significantly, although there are still some that operate illegally in the United States today.
In Ohio, sweatshops were usually located in large cities where there were a significant number of immigrants or Appalachian migrants, such as in Cincinnati and Cleveland.