The Salvation Army began in 1865 when William Booth, a London minister, gave up the comfort of his pulpit and decided to take his message into the streets where it would reach the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.
His original aim was to send converts to established churches, but soon he realized that the poor did not feel comfortable or welcome in the pews of most of the churches and chapels of Victorian England. Regular churchgoers were appalled when these shabbily dressed, unwashed people came to join them in worship.
Booth decided to found a church especially for them - the East London Christian Mission. The mission grew slowly, but Booth's faith in God remained undiminished.
In May of 1878, Booth summoned his son, Bramwell, and his good friend, George Railton, to read a proof of the Christian Mission's annual report. At the top it read: THE CHRISTIAN MISSION is A VOLUNTEER ARMY. Bramwell strongly objected to this wording. He was not a volunteer: he was compelled to do God's work. So, in a flash of inspiration, Booth crossed out "Volunteer" and wrote "Salvation." The Salvation Army was born.
By the 1900s, The Salvation Army had spread around the world. Soon there were officers and soldiers in 36 countries, including the United States of America. This well-organized yet flexible structure inspired many much-needed services: women's social work, the first food depot, the first day nursery, and the first Salvation Army missionary hospital. During World War II, The Salvation Army operated 3,000 service units for the armed forces, which led to the formation of the USO.
Today, The Salvation Army is stronger and more powerful than ever. Now, in over 100 countries around the world, The Salvation Army continues to work where the need is greatest, guided by faith in God and love for all people. In the United States alone, The Salvation Army helps more than 34 million people through programs and services that address poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, hunger, drug addition, gangs and illiteracy.
Salvation Army Historical Milestones
Soon, The Salvation Army fanned out across the world establishing new community centers, performing social service work and providing disaster relief.
- The first Salvation Army band was formed in 1882 by accident. Charles Frye and his sons offered their services as bodyguards for Salvation Army street preachers. They began playing music on their brass instruments to give them something to do while they protected the officers, and soon after quit their family business to lead the Army's music department.
- The red Christmas Kettle debuted in San Francisco in 1891 in the guise of a crab pot. A depression had thrown many out of work, including hundreds of seamen and longshoremen. The campaign proved so successful that by 1900 it was imitated nationwide.
- In 1906, in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake, The Salvation Army set up tent cities to serve as cooks for victims of the disaster. This operation cost $4 million, The Army's entire available resources for that year.
- During World War I, American Salvationists ministered to home-sick troops in Europe. The young women officers, who came to be known as "Doughnut Girls," caught the attention of the troops and the American public.
- During the Great Depression, The Salvation Army increased social service work by 700 percent. Soup kitchens fed the homeless and homes for unwed mothers remained open thorough the generosity of gifts from local farmers and merchants.
- In 1941, The Salvation Army led the charge for the creation of the U.S.O. (United Service Organizations), a cooperative venture between several social service and religious organizations. Red Shield Clubs offered showers, meals and emergency sleeping accommodations to servicemen with the hospitality of a "home away from home."
The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.