The international Red Cross network was founded in Switzerland in 1863. It all began in 1859 when businessman Henry Dunant saw the horrific aftermath of a battle in Italy. The lack of medical treatment for soldiers shocked him. In response, he worked to establish a national relief organization consisting of volunteers who could assist wounded soldiers no matter what side they were on. Dunant was a member of a committee based in Switzerland that created a plan for associations to provide national relief.


International Committee of the Red Cross

In 1863, the first national Red Cross society began operating in Germany. Once this organization was created, it adopted the symbol of a red cross on a white background. This was the inverse of the Swiss flag. It was used to identify medical workers who were on the battlefield.


Civil War

Once the U.S. Civil war started in 1861, Clara Barton voluntarily went to the front lines to deliver food and supplies to Union soldiers. By the time the war was over, Barton was given the name “Angel of the Battlefield” and was permitted to run the federal government’s Missing Soldiers Office. Her job was to locate missing soldiers for their friends and families.


American Red Cross

During the 1860s, Clara Barton went to Europe and learned about the Red Cross movement. Once she returned to the United States, she created an organization like the Red Cross in the United States. She successfully started the American Red Cross in 1882. Initially, the American Red Cross was designed to aid the U.S. military.


Peacetime Disasters

Clara Barton worked hard to provide an additional focus of the American Red Cross to help victims of peacetime disasters as well as soldiers. She offered help and assistance to victims of the Johnstown Flood that occurred in 1889 in Pennsylvania. Over 2,000 people died in that disaster. The American Red Cross also helped victims of an 1893 hurricane in South Carolina’s Seal islands. More than 30,000 people were left homeless by this disaster.



In 1904, Clara Barton retired from being head of the American Red Cross. She was 83 years old. During the early 20th century, the American Red Cross expanded to provide public programs such as water safety, first aid training, and more.


The American Red Cross created the first national civil blood program during the 1940s and still provides over 40 percent of blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross still depends on money from American public support to provide their lifesaving services and essential programs.