The Story Behind the Red Kettle


Whenever Christmastime rolls around, everyone gets into the giving mood. But whether you’re in the mood to give or not, you’ve seen the infamous Salvation Army Red Kettle outside of Wal-Mart after finishing up that last bit of holiday shopping, and you’ve heard that unmistakable bell ringing. Maybe you have wondered why there are so many people working the red kettle in front of retail stores and have grown curious about how the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle program began.

Believe it or not, the tradition of the Red Kettle began back in 1891. According to, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was distraught because many poor citizens in San Francisco were going hungry. During the holiday season, he resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for the destitute in the community. The only major hurdle he had to overcome was finding funding for the project.

As he pondered the issue, he remembered how, as a sailor, boats came in and there was a large, iron kettle called a “Simpson’s Pot.” People that would pass by would toss a coin or two into the kettle in order to help the poor. The next day, Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas.

Six years later, the kettle idea spread from the west coast to the Boston area. That year, the combined effort nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy. In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first citywide sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Today in the U.S., The Salvation Army assists more than four-and-a-half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas time periods.

Captain McFee’s kettle launched a tradition that has spread throughout the United States and all across the world. Kettles are now used in Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries. Everywhere, public contributions to Salvation Army kettles enable the organization to continue its year-round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten.

In 2017, the Red Kettle program celebrated their 127th year of helping those in need. Last year, the Salvation Army had a big kick off event in Arlington, Texas that started during the halftime of the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game.

The Salvation Army exists to meet human need wherever, whenever and however they can. They make it easy to donate so that when you give locally, you ensure that the people in your community get the help they need.

If you want to donate to the Salvation Army go to On this site, you can donate things such as money, cars and clothes. If you don’t have the money to donate, whatever you may have can help someone in need this holiday season.