In many ways, the Red Cross is still largely the same as it was throughout the past 150 years, performing blood drives, delivering care packages to prisoners of war, helping victims of natural disasters, and rescuing those injured on the battlefield. In honor of the group’s fantastic work throughout the years, here are some classic pictures of the foundation at work.
All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.
On the Field
The Red Cross started in 1863 with the noble goal to provide medical services to those injured during war, regardless of the victims' affiliations. Since then, they have moved on towards helping victims of all types of disasters, although much of their work has still been dedicated to their original goal.
Clara Barton started the American Red Cross in 1881, and this is probably the first picture of the organization at work, shot in 1898 during the Spanish American War.
By the time WWI rolled around, the group was already large enough to have its own dedicated trains used to treat those injured in battle and to transport them to a hospital.
These weren’t just shabby cargo trains either; for patients that couldn’t survive the trip to the hospital, full-scale operating rooms were available to help maximize the survival rates for those rescued.
Planes were part of the group’s line-up in WWII, but they weren’t always just used out on the battlefield. In 1942, this poor lad was injured on the Corpus Christi naval station, which was so inaccessible by most vehicles that he had to be air-lifted to the nearest hospital.
This man was pinned under wreckage and was fortunate to be saved with the help of a Red Cross unit. Image taken by Alfred T. Palmer in 1941.
Not all field work occurred during the war. These masked volunteers were part of the St. Louis Motorcorps during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that took the lives of between 50 and 100 million victims.
These days, most dogs enrolled in the Red Cross are therapy dogs, but during the first World War, search and rescue dogs were a vital part of the organization’s field work.
The dogs, equipped with a vest adorned with the foundation’s iconic logo, would be sent out to help track down injury victims like this man.
During the team’s downtime, the pups would also serve as friends and comrades of those assigned to the field.
To be fair, Sandy here wasn’t part of the organization’s search and rescue team, but the adorable pup did live at one of the group’s headquarters and certainly helped raise the spirits of the sick and wounded who spent time there.
Of course, once injury victims were rescued from the field, they had to be brought to a hospital. The Red Cross also maintained many of these facilities, especially during wartime when the majority of staff would likely be enrolled in the war effort.
Aside from physical care, Red Cross nurses were well known for the care and compassion they gave to injured servicemen, even spending holidays with them when they were unable to see their families.
During WWII, the organization trained over 100,000 women to serve as nurse's aides in order to help treat and comfort injured soldiers. This was a particularly valuable position at the time as hospitals around the world were understaffed.
This entire hospital in Australia was built by the US for the support of their troops and staffed by Red Cross workers.
Providing prisoners of war and disaster victims with food and other supplies has been an important part of the group’s work for years and those receiving the packages are certainly happy to get them.
A group of WWI Red Cross girls was carefully preparing care packages for unknown recipients when the photographer captured this image.
By WWII, things had become a lot more streamlined with assembly lines helping to prepare 2,000 packages an hour, tightly banded by these strapping young lads.
These three Belgian prisoners of war locked up in a German camp show just how much they appreciated receiving a Red Cross delivery, containing food, cigarettes and more.
Naturally, paying for the organization’s work isn’t cheap, even with all the volunteers they have. That’s why the Red Cross is always doing fundraising…and they have been since they started.
Booths like this helped attract both volunteers and donations during WWI, making them doubly effective.
Bananas were particularly rare throughout most of the twenties as the most common variety, Gros Michel, was ravaged by Panama disease and the modern varieties we enjoy were not readily available yet. As a result, this banana auction fundraiser held by the Red Cross in 1925 probably raised quite a bit of cash. Of course, the cute little Red Cross baby certainly didn’t hurt either.
Fair booths continued to be utilized in WWII, as seen in this 1942 Russell Lee photograph from the Imperial County Fair.
These days, Jackie Chan, Kristen Bell and Tony Hawk are just a few of the celebrities who actively work to promote the Red Cross, but recruiting celebrities is hardly a new idea for the foundation. Here are a few of their earliest celebrity members.
Perhaps the most famous member of the Red Cross during WWI was the beautiful Princess Mary, seen here with her mother (and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth), Queen Mary.
Just like today, the foundation continued to recruit celebrity members even when there was no major world crisis. In fact, President Coolidge signed up at the start of his presidency in 1923.
The foundation didn’t just attract political icons either: baseball player Christy Mathewson, one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, participated in this fundraising photo opportunity during WWI.
As the film industry started to become a big deal, the Red Cross began asking actors to join their ranks. Here you see silent film and stage actresses Frances Starr and Bijou Fernandez counting money collected at the National Red Cross Pageant in 1917.
In 1938, popular actors Johnnie Davis and Wayne Morris enrolled in the foundation as well.
As long as blood transfusions have been a regular medical procedure, the Red Cross has been there to collect blood and plasma donations.
Say what you will about prisoners, but they can be a darn patriotic bunch, or at least they were back in 1943. When the Red Cross visited San Quentin to receive blood donations, over 300 men volunteered – more than twice the number the foundation actually had the capacity to take donations from during their visit.
Here’s another shot from the San Quentin blood drive. It was common for the organization to visit prisons and other institutions back then, and as long as they had people willing to donate, they were willing to collect the donations.
While prisoners may or may not be as patriotic as they once were, there’s one group that certainly is – firefighters. Now seventy years later, if America started fighting in another major war, you bet you’d see firefighters, just like this one from New York, donating as much blood as the Red Cross would let them.