Salvation Army Red Kettle Program
in its 114th Year
In December of 1891, a Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco had resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor. But how would he manage to pay for all 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.
On the next morning, he secured permission from the authorities to place a similar pot at the Oakland ferry landing. 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. Thus, Captain Joseph McFee launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but throughout the World.
By Christmas 1895, the kettle was used in 30 Salvation Army Corps in various sections of the West Coast area. The Sacramento Bee of the year carried a description of the Army’s Christmas activities and mentioned the contributions to street corner kettles.
Shortly afterward, two young Salvation Army officers who had been instrumental in the original use of the kettle, William A. 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, but his fellow officers refused to cooperate for fear of “making spectacles of themselves.” So McIntyre, his wife and his sister, set up three kettles at the Washington Street thoroughfare 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.
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, however, 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 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—to the aged and lonely, the ill, the inmates of jails and other institutions, the poor and unfortunate. Kettles have changed since the first utilitarian cauldron set up in San Francisco. Some of the new kettles have such devices as a self-ringing bell and a booth complete with public address system over which the traditional Christmas carols are broadcast. Behind it all, though, is the same Salvation Army message, “Sharing is Caring.”