Knights of Labor

Organizing Laborers Since 1869


  • Established as a secret union in 1869 by Uriah S. Stephens
  • Decline began with the Haymarket Riot (1889) which slowly led to it's total diminish before the turn of the new century.

Type of people

Immigrants and Lower to Middle class United States citizens

Location and Area

Origins in the North Eastern Industrial regions of the United States ( Philadelphia Pennsylvania)

Spread across the nation to both Northern and Southern Sects that had individual beliefs about racism and segregation

Goal Of Movement

  • Abolition of child labor
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Political reforms including the graduated income tax
  • An 8 hour work day
  • Termination of the convict contract labor system
  • Government ownership of telegraph facilities and the railroads


Although the Order initially opposed strikes, their strength in numbers allowed them to aid plenty of successful strikes over a long period of time.

  • Wabash Railroad strike (1885)
  • Thibodaux massacre (1887)

Membership reached 700,000+ people under the leadership of Powderly (1886)

Historical Significance

The legacy of the Knights of Labor is mixed. It ultimately failed to deliver on its early promise, however it did prove that a nationwide labor organization could be practical.

Finally, the rise of the American Federation of Labor offered an alternative that rejected radicalism and organized its members along craft lines.

Contributed to labor protest songs