The Origin of The Salvation Army Red Kettle

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The Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco had resolved, in December of 1891, to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor persons. But how would he pay for the food?

As he went about his daily tasks, the question stayed in his mind. Suddenly, his thoughts went back to his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England. On the Stage Landing he saw a large pot, called “Simpson’s pot” into which charitable donations were thrown by passers-by.

On the next morning, he secured permission from the authorities to place a similar pot at the Oakland ferry landing, at the foot of Market Street. No time was lost in securing the pot and placing it in a conspicuous position, so that it could be seen by all those going to and from the ferry boats. In addition, a brass urn was placed on a stand in the waiting room for the same purpose.

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Thus, Captain Joseph McFee launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but throughout the world.

Today, The Red Kettle Campaign is nearly 130 years old, and now is used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, and Chile, and in many European countries. Everywhere, contributions to the kettles continues to enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas and help those most in need throughout the year.