Significant Dates in Red Cross History

  • Historic Red Cross Posters

19th Century

  • December 25, 1821
    Clara Barton is born in New Oxford, Mass.
  • May 8, 1828
    Henry Dunant, founder of Red Cross Movement, is born in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • June 24, 1859
    Battle of Solferino in Northern Italy prompts Henry Dunant to call for an international relief organization to bring aid to the war-injured.
  • April 20, 1861
    Clara Barton, dubbed the "Angel of the Battlefield," begins aid to servicemen in Civil War.
  • February 9, 1863
    International Committee of the Red Cross is founded in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • April 20, 1865
    After the war, Clara Barton was authorized by President Lincoln to open The Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army to identify the fate of missing soldiers for grieving parents, family and friends. In 1867, when Barton closed the office, 63,183 letters had been answered and 22,000 missing men identified.
  • August 8, 1864
    First Geneva Convention issued protecting the war wounded and identifying the red cross on a white field as a neutral protective emblem.
  • May 21, 1881
    Clara Barton and associates establish the American Red Cross.
  • August 22, 1881
    First local chapter of the American Red Cross is formed in Dansville, N.Y.
  • September 4, 1881
    Red Cross undertakes its first disaster relief effort aiding victims of Michigan forest fires.
  • March 16, 1882
    After years of relentless efforts by Clara Barton, the U.S. Senate ratifies the Geneva Convention of 1864.
  • May 31, 1889
    Red Cross responds to Johnstown, Pa., flood that kills over 2,000.
  • August 27, 1893
    Clara Barton aids 30,000-mostly African-American-homeless victims of a hurricane on the Sea Islands of South Carolina.
  • February 15, 1896
    Clara Barton and associates arrive in Constantinople to begin five-month campaign bringing relief to Armenian victims of Turkish oppression.
  • June 20, 1898
    Clara Barton sails to Havana, Cuba, with supplies for victims of Spanish-American War. First American Red Cross war-related assistance to U.S. military.

20th Century

  • September 8, 1900
    Clara Barton's last relief operation is on behalf of victims of the devastating hurricane and tidal wave that hit Galveston, Texas.
  • December 10, 1901
    Mabel T. Boardman elected to Red Cross governing board, beginning a lifelong career of organizational leadership, particularly among volunteers.
  • January 5, 1905
    The Red Cross received our first congressional charter in 1900 and a second in 1905, the year after Barton resigned from the organization. The most recent version of thecharter–which was adopted in May, 2007 restates the traditional purposes of the organization which include giving relief to and serving as a medium of communication between members of the American armed forces and their families and providing national and international disaster relief and mitigation.
  • April 18, 1906
    Earthquake and fire ravage San Francisco; President Theodore Roosevelt calls on the Red Cross to lead a major relief effort.
  • October 9, 1909
    Major Charles Lynch appointed director of new Red Cross First Aid Department.
  • January 20, 1910
    First meeting held to form American Red Cross Nursing Service is chaired by Jane Delano, who becomes the Service's esteemed director.
  • November 5, 1910
    Pullman Company donates first railroad car to Red Cross for use around the country as a classroom for first aid instruction.
  • December 15, 1910
    Thomas A. Edison Company releases "The Red Cross Seal," the first in a series of public health films about the ravages of tuberculosis and Red Cross efforts to prevent its spread.
  • March 25, 1911
    Red Cross helps families of mostly young women who are victims of tragic Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City.
  • February 6, 1912
    Red Cross approves creation of a Rural Nursing Program.
  • April 12, 1912
    Clara Barton dies at age 91 in her home in Glen Echo, Md., eight years after her resignation from the Red Cross.
  • April 14, 1912
    Red Cross comes to aid of those who survived the sinking of the Titanic.
  • March 19, 1913
    President Woodrow Wilson named first honorary president of American Red Cross, establishing a precedent for all chief executives who have followed.
  • February 1, 1914
    Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, known as the "Amiable Whale," begins Red Cross Water Safety program.
  • September 12, 1914
    Red Cross "Mercy Ship" sails to Europe with medical staff and supplies following outbreak of World War I.
  • July 24, 1915
    S.S. Eastland, with 2,000 summer holiday-makers aboard, capsizes in the Chicago River, causing over 800 deaths. Red Cross relief is immediate.
  • June 27, 1916
    Home Service for the military begins its work with help to U.S. troops along Mexican border of the during a series of raids on civilian towns.
  • May 10, 1917
    President Woodrow Wilson appoints a War Council to guide operations of the Red Cross during World War I.
  • May 12, 1917
    Red Cross dedicates its headquarters building in Washington, D.C., as a memorial to "the heroic women of the Civil War," both North and South.
  • May 25, 1917
    Red Cross starts service to blinded war veterans in Baltimore, Md.
  • June 2, 1917
    Red Cross Commission to Europe sets sail to alleviate wartime suffering.
  • June 17, 1917
    Red Cross holds first War Fund drive, surpassing a goal of raising $100 million in one week.
  • August 30, 1917
    Red Cross starts its Canteen Service to provide refreshments to the military.
  • September 15, 1917
    President Woodrow Wilson calls on youth to join the newly formed Junior Red Cross.
  • April 22, 1918
    Red Cross introduces medical social work in servicemen's hospitals.
  • June 5, 1918
    Red Cross begins Nurses' Aide program to make up for nurse shortages during wartime.
  • July 2, 1918
    Frances Reed Elliott is enrolled as the first African-American in the Red Cross Nursing Service.
  • January 27, 1919
    Red Cross reports 204 of its nurses have died combating worldwide Spanish influenza pandemic. Red Cross recruited a total of 15,000 women, including regularly enrolled nurses to respond to the deadly outbreak.
  • May 5, 1919
    League of Red Cross Societies (now the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) is formed in Paris, France.
  • May 17, 1919
    Red Cross National Children's Fund is set up to aid youth in postwar Europe.
  • September 1, 1923
    Red Cross aids thousands of earthquake and fire victims in Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan.
  • April 21, 1927
    After weeks of heavy rainfall, a major levee breaks along the Mississippi River beginning a flood that would cover 27,000 square miles. Red Cross spends months aiding the victims.
  • March 7, 1932
    Red Cross begins distribution of government surplus wheat and cotton products to victims of drought in the Dust Bowl, which covered more than five states including Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
  • May 15, 1940
    Early blood processing program for relief of English war victims, called Plasma for Britain, begins under direction of Dr. Charles R. Drew.
  • February 4, 1941
    Red Cross begins National Blood Donor Service to collect blood for the U.S. military with Dr. Charles R. Drew, formerly of the Plasma for Britain program, as medical director.
  • June 1, 1941
    Red Cross services to military unified as "Services to Armed Forces" (SAF).
  • November 3, 1941
    Irving Berlin's "Angels of Mercy" becomes official Red Cross wartime song.
  • December 7, 1941
    Moments after attack on Pearl Harbor, Red Cross volunteers go into action.
  • July 15, 1942
    Red Cross convenes meeting with black leaders to encourage minority participation in organization.
  • October 26, 1942
    World War II Clubmobiles begin service in England.
  • November 9, 1942
    Red Cross establishes a membership plan for units in U.S. colleges.
  • November 11, 1942
    American Red Cross opens famous Rainbow Corner Club in London for servicemen.
  • November 28, 1942
    Red Cross responds to fire at Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston, Mass., that claims 494 lives.
  • May 1, 1943
    Jesse Thomas is the first African-American to join the American Red Cross executive staff.
  • March 20, 1945
    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's last radio talk to nation is in support of the Red Cross War Fund.
  • August 18, 1945
    Red Cross ends its World War II blood program for the military after collecting more than 13 million pints.
  • August 29, 1945
    First Red Cross field director arrives in Japan after World War II to help rebuild Japanese Red Cross.
  • June 8, 1947
    In an effort to include more representation from the local chapters, the Board of Governors replaces Central Committee as Red Cross governing body.
  • January 12, 1948
    Red Cross begins its National Blood Program for civilians by opening its first collection center in Rochester, N.Y.
  • October 1, 1949
    George C. Marshall, World War II hero and creator of the "Marshall Plan" to help Europe recover from war, becomes Red Cross president.
  • July 22, 1950
    Red Cross becomes blood collection agency for military during Korean War.
  • August 5, 1953
    Red Cross aids Operation Big Switch exchange of POWs at end of Korea War hostilities.
  • October 1, 1953
    Janet Wilson becomes first National Director of new Office of Volunteers that brings workers together from different services under "one Red Cross."
  • April 4, 1955
    The Red Cross liberalizes fundraising policy to allow chapters to participate in federated campaigns, such as the Community Chest, a forerunner of the United Way.
  • July 14, 1955
    United States ratifies the Geneva Conventions of 1949 that still apply today.
  • December 5, 1962
    Red Cross begins collecting medicines and food for Cuba in exchange for release of Bay of Pigs POWs.
  • March 27, 1964
    Red Cross aids victims of massive earthquake that hits Anchorage, Alaska.
  • October 8, 1965
    Red Cross Movement adopts its Seven Fundamental Principles: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality.
  • October 30, 1967
    Board of Governors receives report that National Headquarters will host a national Rare Blood Donor Registry for blood types occurring less than once in 200 people.
  • February 14, 1972
    Red Cross calls for national blood policy, which the federal government sets up in 1974, supporting standardized practices and an end to paid donations.
  • June 14, 1972
    Red Cross responds as Hurricane Agnes slams eastern United States.
  • April 29, 1975
    Red Cross begins four-month Operation New Life for Vietnam refugees brought to the United States.
  • February 25, 1977
    President Jimmy Carter makes his 51st blood donation in bloodmobile at the White House.
  • January 13, 1983
    United States blood banking groups issue their first warning about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
  • October 21, 1983
    Board of Governors approves expansion of Red Cross bone marrow program that leads to stem cell collection and distribution.
  • March 1985
    Immediately after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licenses the first test to detect the antibody to HIV on March 3rd, Red Cross Blood Services regions begin testing all newly donated blood.
  • February 23, 1987
    Red Cross opens its Holland Laboratory dedicated to biomedical research.
  • September 10, 1989
    Red Cross begins relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Hugo.
  • October 17, 1989
    Red Cross aids 14,000 families affected by the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California.
  • September 24, 1990
    Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing & Information Center opens in Baltimore, Md.
  • February 4, 1991
    Elizabeth Dole becomes first woman president of the Red Cross since Clara Barton.
  • August 3, 1992
    First National Testing Laboratory, applying standardized tests to ensure safety of Red Cross blood products, opens in Dedham, Mass.
  • August 24, 1992
    Hurricane Andrew blasts Florida and leads to multi-year Red Cross aid.
  • August 1, 1993
    Record crest of Mississippi River occurs at St. Louis in worst Midwest flooding to date. More than 14,500 people take refuge at 148 Red Cross shelters in 10 states.
  • April 19, 1995
    Red Cross aids victims of the Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
  • October 9, 1996
    Spurred by the disaster that befell TWA Flight 800 on July 17, 1996, Congress passes Aviation Disaster Act that leads to creation of Red Cross Aviation Incident Response (AIR) teams to assist victim families.
  • May 6, 1998
    Red Cross creates post of Chief Diversity Officer to lead effort to ensure an inclusive work environment and responsiveness to the needs of culturally diverse communities.
  • November 16, 1998
    Red Cross opens an Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES) Center with hi-tech emergency communications service for military.
  • March 1, 1999
    Red Cross initiates Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT), which provides early detection of HIV and Hepatitis C in blood.

21st Century

  • September 11, 2001
    Red Cross responds to terrorist attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and outside the town of Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania.
  • October 3, 2001
    Red Cross establishes the Liberty Fund for September 11th terrorism victims and their families. Controversy over the original intent of the fund later leads to the establishment of the Donor Direct fund raising policy, which stands for D(onor) I(ntent) RE(cognition), C(onfirmation) and T(rust).
  • February 7, 2002
    Red Cross joins other groups to launch Measles Initiative, five-year plan to eradicate the disease in sub-Saharan Africa by immunizing children.
  • August 13, 2004
    Hurricane Charley slams into Florida's Gulf Coast. It is followed by a succession of hurricanes-Frances, Ivan and Jeanne-that call for a combined response that is the largest in Red Cross history up to that point.
  • December 26, 2004
    Magnitude 9.0 earthquake off west coast of Indonesia triggers massive tsunami that brings death and destruction to 12 countries. American Red Cross joins international relief effort.
  • August 25 - 29, 2005
    Hurricane Katrina becomes one of the most destructive storms in the history of the Gulf Coast, killing nearly 2,000 and leaving millions homeless. Red Cross mobilizes its largest, single disaster relief effort to date. Two subsequent hurricanes of significant strength hit, Rita and Wilma, compounding the devastation and impacting relief operations.
  • May 2006
    The American Red Cross commemorates 125 years of service both national and international.
  • June 21, 2006
    International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies officially admit the Magen David Adom (MDA) and the Palestine Red Crescent Society to the Red Cross Movement as a result of American Red Cross advocacy to find a solution to their decades-long exclusion.
  • January 2010

    A magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti, leaving 1.5 million people homeless and prompting one of the largest single-country responses in the history of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network. The public generously donates in support of the relief efforts, including donating via text messages on mobile phone, leading to a groundbreaking $32 million raised via SMS.