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American Red Cross Celebrates 130 Years

Exactly 130 years ago today, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross; since its inception, through conflict and disaster, it has come to the aid of people in need.

The American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization led by volunteers and guided by its Congressional Charter and the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, is dedicated to providing relief to victims of disaster and helping people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. Founded in 1881, the Red Cross has been the nation's premier emergency response organization and is part of a worldwide organization that aids victims of devastating domestic and international natural disasters.

As the Red Cross celebrates 130 years of helping people, parts of the country are recovering from large disasters. More than 2,300 Red Cross workers continue to help people along the Mississippi River and in areas across the south where tornadoes wiped out entire communities, operating shelters, distributing meals and clean-up supplies, and providing health and mental health services.

Over the years, the organization has expanded its services in five other areas: community services that help the needy; support and comfort for military members and their families; the collection, processing and distribution of lifesaving blood and blood products; educational programs that promote health and safety; and international relief and development programs.

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF)

Through the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War to today’s unrest in the Middle East, the American Red Cross has provided a service to members of the U.S. Armed Forces by linking members of the U.S. Armed Forces with their families. Twenty-four hours a day, the Red Cross sends emergency communications from families to deployed service members through a network of more than 630 chapters and workers assigned on military installations around the world, including forward deployed locations in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

While providing service to 1.4 million active duty military personnel and their families, the Red Cross also reaches out to more than 800,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families, 24 million military veterans and millions of family members. In addition to emergency communications, SAF staff can access financial assistance in partnership with military aid societies and provide information, referrals and assistance to veterans.

Blood Services

The American Red Cross involvement in Blood Services dates back to February of 1941 when it began the National Blood Donor Service to collect blood for the military during World War II. This program ended in 1945 and three years later the American Red Cross began its blood program for civilians in Rochester, N.Y.

Today the American Red Cross is one of the largest blood suppliers in the United States, collecting about 6.5 million units of blood from approximately 4.5 million volunteer donors. From these donations, the Red Cross distributes around 9.5 million blood products each year, including 6 million red cells, to patients in approximately 3,000 hospitals and transfusion centers across the country.

Disaster Services

The American Red Cross undertook its first disaster relief effort in 1881, helping people after devastating forest fires in Michigan. Today, the Red Cross is the nation’s largest independent nonprofit humanitarian organization helping people prepare for, prevent and respond to emergencies.

The Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters every year with a trained network of more than 60,000 volunteers helping people at what can be the most frightening time of their life. There are emergency supply warehouses across the country, especially in disaster-prone areas, filled with disaster relief supplies. During relief operations, the Red Cross has the ability to serve a million meals a day, and has enough cots, blankets and comfort kits for about 350,000 shelter residents.

Preparedness, Health and Safety

Clara Barton began the initial Red Cross first aid program as early as 1903, when she formed a committee to begin first aid instruction among the country’s workers. This program was later disbanded, and in 1910, first aid instruction was re-introduced as a national Red Cross program.

Today, the American Red Cross is the premier provider of first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training, lifeguard training and water safety instruction, HIV/AIDS prevention education, care giving and other health and safety education programs. The American Red Cross has provided health and safety services to people as part of the organization's mission of emergency prevention and preparedness.

International Services

Five years after its founding, the American Red Cross offered relief to people overseas when Clara Barton and her associates arrived in Constantinople to help Armenian victims of Turkish oppression.

Today the American Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian network, made up of 186 Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies and more than 13 million volunteers; all helping vulnerable people and communities around the world prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters. Working with our partners around the globe, the American Red Cross helps to build the local capacities of our sister Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, collaborates with those to train and organize volunteers and educate communities, and establishes partnerships with other public and private organizations to strengthen and complement our core international services and initiatives.

Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS; you can also text the word “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

A Brief History of the American Red Cross

Significant Dates in Red Cross History

Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross