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Red Cross Blood Program Began During World War II

For more than 60 years, the American Red Cross has provided generations of Americans with blood and blood products through its Blood Services, a program started during World War II. March is Red Cross Month and a great opportunity to learn the history of the Blood Services Program and schedule a blood donation.

When England faced possible invasion, it realized massive quantities of blood were needed for civilians and military forces. The U.S. Armed Forces asked the Red Cross to create and operate a national blood donor program to collect blood for shipment to the British Isles. The first bloodmobile visited the Farmingdale, New York Red Cross Chapter March 10, 1941.

After the war, few hospitals had blood banks. Many relied on direct transfusion from donor to patient. In 1947, the Red Cross Board of Governors approved the introduction of a national civilian blood program, the largest peacetime health project undertaken by the organization. The first regional blood center opened in Rochester, New York in 1948.

Focus On Research and Safety Begins In The ‘60s

During the 1960s, the focus of Blood Services turned to research with the establishment of Red Cross laboratories. A small lab in Washington, D.C. was expanded to study how to better preserve blood components. Another lab was established in Los Angeles to work on automated blood grouping, and yet another was established at New York University to develop a product to help people with hemophilia. By 1963, the lab in Washington was at capacity and a new 22,000 square foot building was leased in Bethesda, Maryland to accommodate expanding blood research.

Blood Save Lives was created in 1948 by Jes Schlaikjer to encourage blood donations by ordinary citizens. This poster illustrates the drama of a life saving blood transfusion, where one person's donation could make a difference between life and death.

During the 1970s, Red Cross scientists developed methods to freeze red blood cells and developed testing for Hepatitis B. Processes were developed to test blood for purity and a uniform bar code was developed to identify blood products. At the same time, apheresis became a part of the blood program, an effort to collect platelets, which continues today. In 1987, the Jerome H. Holland Laboratory was dedicated in Rockville, Maryland to house thriving Red Cross research and development programs.

The Holland Laboratory is named in honor of Jerome H. Holland, African-American educator, businessman, author, civil rights proponent, diplomat and 1985 Presidential Medal of Freedom winner. Holland was the driving force behind the current phase of biomedical research and development at the American Red Cross. A true visionary, Holland recognized the importance of blood research and the benefits it could bring to human health. His legacy lives on through his mission of helping to provide the safest blood possible to those in need.

Today, Red Cross Is Responsible For More Than 40 Percent Of Country’s Blood Supply

Red Cross Blood Services collects and distributes more than 40 percent of the nation's blood supply – approximately six million units of blood each year from nearly four million volunteer blood donors. Through a national network of 36 blood centers, the Red Cross makes and distributes about nine million blood products for patients in approximately 3,000 hospitals and transfusion centers across the country.

To meet the needs of these patients, the Red Cross needs to collect about 22,000 units of blood each weekday and another 15,000 each weekend. If there is a large disaster, that need may increase. Anyone interested in giving blood or who would like information about becoming a blood donor can visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in general good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements. Individuals should bring their Red Cross blood donor card or other form of positive ID when coming to donate.