Our History


Booth's Non-Conventional Approach

William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852. His crusade was to win the lost multitudes of London to Christ. He went into the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the destitute.

Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit and took his message to the people. His fervor led to disagreement with the leaders of the church in London. They preferred traditional measures. As a result, he withdrew from the church and traveled throughout England conducting evangelistic meetings. His wife, Catherine, was a major force in The Salvation Army movement. Today, William and Catherine Booth are recognized as  co-founders of The Salvation Army.

In 1865, William Booth was invited to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in the east end of London. He set up a tent in a Quaker graveyard and his services became an instant success. This proved to be the end of his wanderings as an independent traveling evangelist. His renown as a religious leader spread throughout London. His followers were a vigorous group dedicated to fight for the souls of men and women.

First Converts

Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers and drunkards were among Booth’s first converts to Christianity. His congregations were desperately poor. He preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead them to Christ and to link them to a church for further spiritual guidance. Even though they were converted, churches did not accept Booth’s followers because of what they had been. Booth gave their lives direction in a spiritual manner and put them to work to save others who were like themselves. They too preached and sang in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God.

The Army Builds

In 1867, Booth had only 10 full-time workers. By 1874, the numbers had grown to 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists. They served under the name "The Christian Mission." Booth assumed the title of a General Superintendent. His followers called him "General." Known as the "Hallelujah Army,'" the converts spread out of the east end of London into neighboring areas and then to other cities.

Booth was reading a printer’s proof of the 1878 Annual Report when he noticed the statement, “The Christian Mission under the superintendent’s of the Rev. William Booth is a volunteer army.” He crossed out the words "volunteer army'" and penned in "Salvation Army'" From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The Salvation Army which was adopted in August of that same year.

The Red Kettle

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 a passerby 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 Place. In its conspicuous position, the pot drew the attention of people going to and from the ferryboats. Another urn, in the ferryboat waiting room, also attracted donations. Thus, Captain Joseph McFee launched a tradition that spread throughout the United States and then around the world.

By Christmas 1895, thirty Salvation Army corps in the West Coast area used 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, instrumental in the original use of the kettle, took the idea 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 on Washington Street 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 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 often given grocery checks or food baskets so they can prepare 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 and lonely, ill, poor and disadvantaged, or inmates of jails and other institutions.

In the United States, The Salvation Army annually aids more than 6 million people at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kettles have changed since that first utilitarian cauldron in San Francisco. Today, some kettles have such devices as a self-ringing bell, a booth with a system that broadcasts Christmas carols, even the capability for donors to use credit cards!




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