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For over 150 years The Salvation Army has served families, and this holiday season, we celebrate them.
We are committed to demonstrating the love of God that restores hope and changes lives for generations to come.
This Christmas, we #LoveBeyondCircumstances

The Origin of The Salvation Army Red Kettle

December 1891

The Salvation Army’s Captain, Joseph McFee, in San Francisco desired to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s impoverished. 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.

The following 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.

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

Christmas 1895

The kettle was implemented in 30 Salvation Army locations in various sections of the West Coast area. Shortly afterward, two young Salvation Army officers who had been instrumental in the original use of the kettle, William McIntyre and N.J. Lewis, were transferred to the East. They took with them the idea of the Christmas kettle.

In 1897

McIntyre prepared his Christmas plans for Boston around the kettle, by setting up three kettles in the heart of the city. That year the kettle effort in Boston and other locations nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.


Donations to Salvation Army kettles at Christmas time support holiday meals for homeless and needy families, but also help The Salvation Army serve 30 million people through a multitude of other services all year long. These include: 

Disaster Response Services: which include assisting survivors of natural
and man-made disasters to recover and rebuild their lives;
Social Service programs: providing food, shelter, clothing and financial
Casework and Counseling: with programs for health care and residential
assistance and abuse counseling;
Youth Services: with programs for music, athletics, arts and crafts, camping
and family counseling;
Senior Centers: focused on assisting the needs of older adults — including
eight Silvercrest centers where seniors’ assistance is partially subsidized by
federal government dollars;
Christmas Programs: in which the famous Red Kettles are a centerpiece, to
help families and individuals financially at year-end with toys, meals and
other assistance;
Human and Sexual Trafficking Advocacy: where Army officers and staff
are focused on public policy, and providing services and
advocacy for victims of this international crime.

Kettles now are used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, and Chile, and in many European countries. Everywhere, public contributions to the kettles enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas to those who would otherwise be forgotten all year long. In the United States, kettles at Thanksgiving and Christmas, although changed since the first utilitarian cauldron set up in San Francisco, help make it possible for The Salvation Army to Do The Most Good possible for 25 million people each year.

You may also be interested in:

Story of Second Chances: Joseph’s Story