The Knights of Columbus was founded by a Catholic priest, Father Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut on February 2, 1882, and incorporated under the laws of Connecticut on March 29, 1882. Though the first councils were all in New England, the Order soon spread throughout the United States in the following years. Today the Order has active councils in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Philippines.
Fr. McGivney founded the Knights at a time when Catholics were regularly excluded from the unions and men's organizations that provided social support services. The organization was also intended to provide an alternative for Catholics to membership in a Masonic lodge—Freemasonry was discouraged by church hierarchy, and banned by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. The naming of the order after Columbus was partially intended as a mild ridicule of Anglo-Saxon Protestant leaders of the day, who upheld the explorer (an Italian working for Catholic Spain) as an American hero, yet simultaneously sought to marginalize recent Catholic immigrants.