Knights of Labor
August 06, 2018
In 1869, Uriah S. Stephens (1821-1869), founded the Knights of Labor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The organization, first named the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, replaced the unsuccessful Garment Cutters Union of Philadelphia. Historians recognize it as one of the largest labor organizations in America in the 1880s. In the beginning, the group chose members very selectively. At the time, the Order was sometimes called the “secret society of tailors.”
The Order was both a fraternal order and a labor union created to protect its members. The Order supported an eight-hour day, abolition of child labor, equal pay for equal work, and political reforms including the graduated income tax. The group was one of the first unions to advocate for all emerging industrial working class, such as women, some immigrant groups, and African Americans.
The Knights of Labor enjoyed immense popularity in the 1880s and reached 700,000 members by 1886. After some unsuccessful unionizing campaigns, deadly labor union rallies, and government efforts to impede labor organizing, members lost faith in the effectiveness of the Order as a labor union. Membership decreased by the late 1890s. The American Federation of Labor largely replaced the group by the early 1900s.
This pressed glass bread platter in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection commemorates the Knights of Labor during the height of their popularity. The platter, probably manufactured by the Bakewell, Pears, & Co. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1876, features symbols of industry and agriculture―a farmer with a sickle and sheaf of wheat, train and engine, horse, and ocean steam vessel. At center is a man with a hammer shaking hands with a knight, and the phrase “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
Bread platters like this one were an extremely popular form of tableware in the Victorian era. Glass manufacturers produced platters that commemorated or memorialized political figures, organizations, or events.
Do you have any objects related to the Knights of Labor? Tell us about them in the comments section below.