Celebrating the 140th Anniversary of the American Red Cross

“The Red Cross is a part of us — it has come to stay — and like the sturdy oak, its spreading branches shall yet encompass and shelter the relief of the nation.”

Clara Barton

On May 21, 2021, the American Red Cross marks 140 years of preventing and alleviating human suffering.

It all began on May 21, 1881, when founder Clara Barton established the organization in Washington, D.C. Blazing a bold path, her leadership laid the groundwork for future generations to transform the Red Cross into a leading relief organization, where people continue to come together in innovative ways to serve and give hope for communities in need across the globe.

“We are proud to celebrate our organization’s 140th anniversary,” said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. “While so much has changed over the last 140 years, the one constant is how deeply humbled and grateful we continue to be for the steadfast commitment of our most compassionate friends.”


Over the past 140 years, we’ve continued to adapt to people’s emerging needs and deliver emergency relief to those who need it most. Red Cross workers have responded to 3 million disasters in the U.S., providing millions of people with comfort, essentials like food and shelter, and support to rebuild their lives after crises of all kinds — from natural disasters to home fires to tragic shootings. The Red Cross has supported disaster victims since its beginning.

This work has always been at the heart of what we do. Months after Barton established the Red Cross, volunteers responded to devastating forest fires in Michigan. Nearly eight years later in 1889, she and a team of 50 volunteers provided emergency shelter for the first time in the aftermath of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, floods.

Following Barton’s retirement in 1904, the Red Cross continued to strengthen its volunteer-powered response efforts with technological advancements — from using the radio in 1931 to broadcast critical information about the devastating Dust Bowl storms to launching a fleet of custom emergency response vehicles in 1984 to more effectively deliver aid to hard-hit communities. In 2011, our first mobile apps began helping people find emergency shelters instantly — and today, our disaster management system, RC View, displays near real-time needs in user-friendly maps, enabling us to target assistance to where it’s needed most. Visit redcross.org/RedCross140 to learn more about our history throughout the years and the leaders that helped shape our organization.


While we can’t stop emergencies from happening, we can help ensure that people never face them alone. Join us to provide relief and care wherever it’s needed — today and for years to come. The Red Cross mission is made possible by the generosity of donors and volunteers, who comprise more than 90% of our workforce. Visit redcross.org to get involved by making a financial donation, volunteering, giving blood or taking a class to learn lifesaving skills.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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