The Knights of Pythias is a fraternal organization and secret society founded at Washington, DC, on 19 February 1864.
The Knights of Pythias was the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the United States Congress. It was founded by Justus H. Rathbone, who had been inspired by a play by the Irish poet John Banim about the legend of Damon and Pythias. This legend illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor and friendship that are central to the order.
The order has over two thousand lodges in the United States and around the world, with a total membership of over 50,000 in 2003. Some lodges meet in structures referred to as Pythian Castles.
As the fraternal boom of the late 19th Century took hold, many organizations sprouted up, mostly to provide insurance to members, while others were really trying to provide a fraternal experience. The top two in the later category were the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows. The number three dog, however, was the Knights of Pythias. The organization had many internal issues and fractures, as well as several appendant bodies. But, like most fraternal groups, the basic Lodge was the most powerful. On a national level, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania controlled the most sway.