Red Cross, Red Crescent Societies Celebrate 150 Years

We are effective in our humanitarian response and grassroots communication because we are strongly anchored in local communities.

This year on May 8, World Red Cross Red Crescent Day, more than 185 countries will celebrate the birth of the largest and most trusted humanitarian organization in the world.

Founded 150 years ago, the Red Cross and Red Crescent network remains as relevant and driven as ever in its mission to alleviate human suffering and provide emergency assistance when needed, whether caused by disaster or conflict.

“We are effective in our humanitarian response and grassroots communication because we are strongly anchored in local communities,” said IFRC President Tadateru Konoé and ICRC President Peter Maurer in a joint statement.

In the United States, more than 500,000 volunteers help to respond to more than 70,000 disasters each year, including home fires, tornadoes, wild fires, hurricanes, floods and more.

Since the American Red Cross joined the network in 1881 after its founder, Clara Barton, secured a congressional charter, it has grown into one of the most influential societies, responding to increasing humanitarian needs both at home and abroad.

Through the coordination and cooperation of the international network’s branches – the national societies and their overarching International Federation (IFRC), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – and their almost 100 million volunteers, more than 155 million people benefited from the organization’s assistance in the past year alone.

“Because of the brand, because of the history, because we do disaster response very well, the American public is very generous with us following a disaster,” said David Meltzer, general counsel and chief international officer for the American Red Cross, during a presentation to Yale University’s School of Management in the Fall of 2012.

When major disasters strike abroad – as with the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan – the American Red Cross is often one of the major responders within the International Red Cross, working closely with the global network to ensure that emergency relief is provided to those in need.

Even outside of emergency response, the American Red Cross maintains relationships with Red Cross and Red Crescent societies throughout the world. From supporting preparedness efforts in disaster-prone areas and funding health and immunization campaigns, to reconnecting families separated by war or disaster and teaching about the rules of International Humanitarian Law here at home, the American Red Cross is dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to the global community.

As the nature and frequencies of disasters continue to evolve and strengthen over time, the Red Cross Red Crescent network remains necessarily focused on ensuring its ability to respond through new technologies and improved resources. Still, the organization’s values and principles have endured steadfastly over the past 150 years.

Local volunteers are the irreplaceable backbone of the Red Cross presence. Driven by the network’s fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality, those who support the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world represent a lasting commitment to humanitarian aid without prejudice.

“If they don’t trust you, they don’t open the door,” said Meltzer. “If you’re trying to vaccinate the child of a mother who has not had the benefit of an education, having someone from the local Red Cross or Red Crescent society show up with that emblem literally opens doors.”

The American Red Cross is proud to celebrate 150 years of opening doors for those in need, and looks forward to working side-by-side with its Red Cross and Red Crescent partners for many years to come.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.