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Posted On March 8, 2013 Accident Tips & Prevention,Personal Injury

Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Red Cross

The life-saving gift of blood. Invaluable support in the face of disasters. Training everyday heroes through first aid classes.

But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Not just blood donations! The American Red Cross helps victims of disasters and wars, at home and across the globe. Photo Credit: Flickr (Creative Commons license).

Maybe everyone knows about the American Red Cross, but few people know just how much the charity has to offer families affected by disasters, accidents, and wars. For one thing, did you know that the American Red Cross is not a division of the United States government, although it works closely with government agencies to provide relief services in the event of disasters and wars? This March, celebrate American Red Cross Month by learning how the organization works and what you can do to make a difference.

1. The Red Cross Has Been Around Longer than Modern Blood Transfusions

Because the organization is so strongly associated with blood donations, you might be surprised to hear that it was founded decades before modern blood transfusions existed. The first attempts at blood transfusions began as early as 1628, when William Harvey, a British doctor, observed that blood circulates through the human body. A successful human-to-human blood transfusion didn’t occur until 1818, and it was still a far riskier and less sophisticated practice than we think of today. Modern blood transfusions – which take into account the need to match recipients with appropriate blood types and test donated blood for safety – didn’t begin until the 1900s. The first cross-matched blood transfusion happened in 1907, while donated blood didn’t begin being tested regularly for syphilis until 1947.


Blood transfusion technology has come a long way since World War II – but the American Red Cross was still around long before this equipment was used to help soldiers. Photo Credit: Ravn, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons license).

The American Red Cross, on the other hand, has been around since 1881, when doctors were still trying to use goat’s and cow’s milk as a blood substitute for humans. Long before starting its blood donation program in 1940 and ultimately earning a reputation as one of the most distinguished collectors of blood donations, the American Red Cross was helping disaster victims and supporting our troops.

2. The Red Cross Has a Military Record

Military history buffs should be interested to know that the American Red Cross has been a major supporter of United States soldiers since the 1880s and still is today. In fact, the organization was founded by medical personnel who assisted the military during the Civil War. Since 1881, the American Red Cross has provided supplies, emergency communications services, medical aid, and moral support to troops, refugees, and prisoners of the following military conflicts:

  • Spanish-American War
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Operation Desert Shield/Storm
  • Operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan, among other nations)
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom

The organization also assisted with humanitarian efforts during international conflicts that required the presence of U.S. troops in Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Cuba, Haiti, Hungary, Kosovo, Kuwait, Macedonia, Panama, the Philippines, Rwanda, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.


During World War II, the American Red Cross’s clubmobiles were one of the only sources of recreation available to boost the morale of troops. The vehicles also transported food and supplies, most notably coffee and donuts. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Assistance from the American Red Cross extends to veterans and military families, too. Each day, military families live with the prospect of uncertainty. Should a crisis occur, the wait for news about the safety of a deployed loved one can seem endless.

The American Red Cross supports these families by providing emergency communication services, verifying and relaying important information. If there’s a major occurrence on the home front – whether it’s sad news like a death in the family or joyous events, like a birth – the Red Cross gets the important information to the appropriate military personnel efficiently. The American Red Cross also supports military hospitals and provides information and referral resources to identify the needs of active duty military personnel and veterans and help these heroes and their families get the assistance they need. The organization teaches military personnel and families coping methods for resiliency, both before deployments and after returning home.

3. The Red Cross Was Founded by a Woman (Before Women Had Rights)

In 1881, nearly 40 years before the nineteenth amendment gave women the right to vote, Clara Barton founded the American chapter of the Red Cross organization. Throughout her life both before and after founding the organization, Barton served her country, first as a teacher, then as a government clerk, and most famously as a battlefield nurse during the Civil War. She first became involved with the international Red Cross organization in 1869 while traveling abroad in Switzerland, where she helped Red Cross workers there distribute supplies during the Franco-Prussian War.


Clara Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in Oxford, Massachusetts. She devoted her life to humanitarian efforts until her death on April 12, 1912, in Glen Echo, Maryland. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Barton’s work as a humanitarian established a legacy that continues to help hundreds of millions of people each year, and her persistence and leadership paved the way for women to work in fulfilling roles far outside the home – even on battlefields and in disaster zones. That she was able to accomplish this undertaking in a time when women’s rights were severely limited, to say the least, is remarkable.

4. The Red Cross Is More Tech-Savvy Than You Think

Disaster? There’s an app for that.

The American Red Cross created smartphone apps for every natural disaster. Whether you’re facing earth(quakes), wind, or (wild)fire, the apps can assist you in preparing emergency kits, notify you of disaster warnings, and educate you on the step-by-step procedures to follow after the event occurs – no internet or cell phone connectivity needed. These apps are also equipped with maps of shelters and a feature to let loved ones know that you’re safe.

There’s even a separate first aid app to remind you what to do in an emergency situation. If someone you love is injured, the information on your smartphone can be crucial to saving that person’s life.

Most of these apps are available for both Apple and Android phones for free, so there’s no reason not to be prepared. Help the Red Cross help you!

5. The Red Cross Does So Much More than Blood Donations

Floods, fires, and blizzards – oh my! You might be surprised at all of the different services that the program provides.

This image is a comforting site to disaster victims. Photo Credit: Flickr (Creative Commons license).

Though the organization is called the American Red Cross, its work is international. Volunteers provide supplies, disaster relief aid, and education to communities across the world. Wherever people have been impacted by hurricanes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, fires, explosions, hazardous materials spills, or transportation accidents, the organization is there to help.

For victims of tornados, hurricanes, and other disasters, something as simple as a prepared meal can make a world of difference. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Did you know that the American Red Cross also creates training curricula for animal-assisted therapy programs? The courses allow everyday people and pets to become heroes to someone with an illness or injury.


Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to improve patients’ morale and in some cases may even make their bodies more responsive to treatments. Photo Credit: Flickr (Creative Commons license).

What Can You Do?

The great thing about the American Red Cross is that it offers every one of us the opportunity to make a real, concrete difference in the world. It’s our chance to help someone somewhere in their moments of greatest need, and there are many ways to make this difference just by donating a few hours of time during the year.

  • Donate blood: Blood donation takes just one hour of your time and can be done no more frequently than every 56 days – surely you can spare five hours a year to save lives. If you think your donation doesn’t matter, consider this: one American needs a blood transfusion ever two seconds, and a single one of these recipients, like a severely-injured car accident victim, may need as many as 100 transfusions. In fact, your donation can be a major turning point in the struggle to end the blood shortage. “If one more percent of Americans begin to give blood, blood scarcity would be gone soon,” reported your eligibility to donate blood and make an appointment today! If you’re not currently eligible to donate, help the cause by volunteering to work at a blood drive, checking in donors, or host a Red Cross blood drive with your community group.
  • Donate time: Are you a pet owner? Great! You can spend quality time with your pet and make a difference providing pet therapy in local medical facilities and nursing homes. Start by taking free animal assisted therapy courses through the Red Cross. If you’ve got more time and an adventurous spirit, consider volunteering as an international disaster responder.
  • Get educated: The American Red Cross offers multiple first aid and safety courses. Knowledge really is power – it can even save lives. Take courses to be a lifeguard, a babysitter, or simply a prepared responder to medical emergencies. You can even take your service a step farther by becoming certified to teach first aid and safety courses to others in your community.


Show your pride in the American Red Cross. Photo Credit: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons license).

Donating blood, time, or money to help the American Red Cross is more than a simple act of altruism. It’s a way of standing up for a humanitarian organization with a history that we as Americans can feel proud and honored to be a part of – an organization that has been around far longer than many of the modern technologies it now uses.

Some symbols, like business logos, are so common that we often overlook them. Let’s not allow the image of the red cross to become one of those symbols. The American Red Cross organization is there for us when we need it most. The continuing existence of a constant, always prepared emergency relief organization that is ready to act at a moment’s notice is an achievement well worth celebrating.