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Our History

More Than a Century of Compassionate Service

Since our founding by Clara Barton on May 21, 1881, the American Red Cross has been dedicated to serving people in need. We received our first congressional charter in 1900 and to this day we are tasked by the federal government with providing services to members of the American armed forces and their families as well as providing disaster relief in the United States and around the world.

Even while the Red Cross adapts to meet the changing needs of the people we serve, we always stay true to those roots. Are you familiar with the classic images of Red Cross nurses helping American soldiers and civilian war victims during World War I? In fact, as you read this Red Cross staff and volunteers are still deploying alongside America’s military. Maybe you’ve taken a class through the Red Cross, such as first aid certification or how to swim. Did you know we’ve been offering similar training since the early 1900s? Have you ever given blood or received donated blood? The Red Cross developed the first nationwide civilian blood program in the 1940s and we still provide more than 40% of the blood products in this country.

Today, as throughout our long history, the Red Cross depends on generous contributions of time, blood, and money from the American public to support our lifesaving services and programs. We invite you to learn about our history and hope you will feel inspired to become more involved with the Red Cross.

Download Our Full History

Read timely insights into Red Cross history and explore our archives through our blog: Visit Red Cross Chat

Come See Our History! Visit Red Cross Square


Come see our historic treasures! Free, guided tours of the National Headquarters at 430 17th Street, NW, in Washington DC are offered Wednesdays and Fridays 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. by reservation only. Limited to 15 guests per tour.

  • To schedule a tour, email us at
  • For questions, call us at 202-303-4233. Please note, tour reservations are not accepted over the phone.
  • Did you already take a tour? Please give us your feedback!


    Answering the Call

    Come Visit Our New Exhibit Commemorating World War I at National Headquarters

    World War I was a time of phenomenal growth for the Red Cross ultimately helping to define and create the organization we know today. To commemorate this event, a new exhibit, entitled Answering the Call, the American Red Cross in World War I, is on view at the historic Red Cross National Headquarters building in Washington, DC.

    Featuring photography, artifacts, and personal stories, the exhibit details the growth of volunteer opportunities, chapter expansion, fundraising, and the development of Red Cross nursing in support of the U.S. military and humanitarian relief to impacted civilians well into the early 1920s. Reservations for tours on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am and 2pm can be scheduled by emailing

    The Tiffany Windows

    A highlight of many tours of our National Headquarters is the beautiful set of windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany, donated to the Red Cross by the Women’s Relief Corps of the North and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Learn More.

    Please be aware that this is a working office building and, due to meetings, some spaces in the building may not be available for viewing.

    How We Grew

    Get to know some of the people and milestones that built the Red Cross.

    Adapting to Meet the Nation's Needs

    Explore our timeline to learn how our 5 service areas developed over more than a century.

    The Red Cross…has often seemed to be the friendly hand of this nation, reaching across the sea to sustain its fighting men.

    Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address to Congress, June 18, 1945

    Partnership with America's Military Members

    From the Spanish-American War to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the Red Cross has served alongside America’s military personnel and cared for veterans and families back home.
    8 Million Volunteers at Home and Overseas

    When the United States declared war on Germany, the American Red Cross was tasked with aiding American servicemen in Europe. In addition to mobilizing more than 20,000 nurses and building 54 hospitals overseas, the Red Cross provided a way for patriotic men, women and children back home to contribute to war relief. By the end of the war, nearly one-third of all Americans had donated in support of the Red Cross effort or were serving as volunteers.


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    Supporting 16 Million Military Personnel

    The Red Cross mobilized in support of the U.S. military, our Allies and civilian victims of World War II. We enrolled more than 104,000 nurses for military service, prepared 27 million packages for prisoners of war, shipped more than 300,000 tons of supplies, and collected 13.3 million pints of blood for the armed forces. In nearly every American family, someone was a Red Cross volunteer, donor or blood donor, or received Red Cross services.


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    126,000 Volunteers Every Month

    During the Korean Conflict, Red Cross services grew. The blood program for the military was expanded. The emergency mobile recreation service served all United Nations forces. Red Cross provided emergency communications from family members and facilitated calls and letters home from wounded service members. Following the 1953 armistice, the American and Korean Red Cross societies ensured the transfer of nearly 90,000 prisoners of war.


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    Serving 280,000 Servicemen a Month

    Between 1965 and 1972, American Red Cross field directors, hospital personnel and recreation workers (“Donut Dollies”) served on military bases and in military hospitals and hospital ships throughout Southeast Asia. The Red Cross provided recreation activities for service members while facilitating more than 2 million emergency communications between service members and their families.


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    Request Information

    For more information about our history, contact American Red Cross Historical Programs

    Proud of Our History but Focused on the Future

    Today, the Red Cross is preparing to meet the next crisis head-on. Now that you've learned about our history, please consider joining our efforts.

    Donate Now

    Support all the urgent humanitarian needs of the American Red Cross.

    $10.00 is the minimum online donation amount. All donations are tax deductible.

    Ready To Donate

    Find a drive and schedule a blood donation appointment today.

    Learn Lifesaving Skills