The Salvation Army is probably best known for its bells ringing over the Christmas season.  After all, the Christmas carol, Silver Bells, is about the Red Kettle campaign that started over one-hundred years ago.  In South Mississippi, you’ll find a bell ringing in all six counties that we serve.


In 1891, a Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor. But how would he pay for the food? From his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, the captain remembered a large pot, displayed on the Stage Landing, called “Simpson’s Pot” where passersby would toss charitable donations.

The captain presented his idea to city authorities and received permission to place a similar pot at the Oakland ferry landing at the foot of San Francisco’s Market Street. In its conspicuous position, the pot drew the attention of people going to and from the ferryboats. An urn in the ferryboat waiting room also attracted donations. Thus, Captain Joseph McGee launched a tradition that spread not only throughout the United States but also around the world.

By Christmas 1895, thirty Salvation Army Corps throughout the West Coast area were using the kettle.  That year, The Sacramento Bee published a description of the Army’s Christmas activities and mentioned the contributions. Two young Salvation Army officers, William A. McIntyre and N. J. Lewis, who instrumental in the original use of the kettle were sent to the East Coast.

In 1897, McIntyre prepared his Christmas plans for Boston around the kettle. Other Army officers did not want to participate for fear of “making spectacles of themselves.” Nevertheless, McIntyre, with his wife and sister, set up three kettles at the Washington Street thoroughfare in heart of the city. That year the kettle effort in Boston and other locations nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.

In 1898, the New York World hailed The Salvation Army kettles as “the newest and most novel device for collecting money.” The newspaper also observed, “There is a man in charge to see that contributions are not stolen.” In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Today, families are given grocery checks so that they can buy and prepare their own dinners at home. The homeless poor are still invited to share holiday dinners and festivities at hundreds of Salvation Army centers.

Kettles now are used around the world, including Korea, Japan, Chile, and Europe. Everywhere, public contributions to the kettles enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas to people who would otherwise be forgotten — the aged, lonely, ill, poor and disadvantaged, prison inmates and inmates in other institutions. In the United States, The Salvation Army annually aids several million people at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kettles have changed since that first utilitarian cauldron in San Francisco. Some new kettles have such devices as a self-ringing bell, and a booth with a public address system to broadcast traditional Christmas carols. Even so, the same Salvation Army message — “Sharing is Caring” — still supports this timeless, enduring program.