The Red Cross idea was born in 1859. Henry Dunant, a young Swiss, witnessed a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy, between the armies of imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian Alliance. Some 40,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield, and the wounded were lacking medical attention. Dunant organized local people to bind the soldiers’ wounds and feed and comfort them. Upon his return, he called for the creation of national relief societies to assist those wounded in war, and he pointed the way to the future Geneva Conventions.
In October 1863, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement were created in Geneva, Switzerland, to provide nonpartisan care to the wounded and sick in times of war. The Red Cross emblem was adopted at this first conference as a symbol of neutrality and was to be used by national relief societies. In August 1864, the representatives of 12 governments signed the Geneva Convention Treaty.
The extraordinary efforts of Dunant led to the eventual establishment of the International Red Cross. Today, the Red Cross Movement incorporates the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as national societies in 175 countries, including the American Red Cross.