The Origin of the Red Kettle:
In 1891, The Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco, Joseph McFee, had resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to 1,000 of the area's poor persons. But how would he pay for the food?
He lay awake nights worrying, thinking, and praying about how he could find the funds to fulfill his commitment. As he pondered the issue, his thoughts drifted back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England. There on the Stage Landing, where the boats came in and out, he remembered seeing a large pot called a "Simpson's pot," into which charitable donations were thrown by passers-by.
The next day Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing so that it could be seen by all those going to and from the ferry boats. Alongside the pot, he placed a sign that said "Keep the Pot Boiling." In addition, a brass urn was placed on a stand in the waiting room for the same purpose. He soon had the money needed to see to it that the poor were properly fed at Christmas. Thus, Captain Joseph McFee launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but throughout the world.
By Christmas 1895, the kettle was used in 30 Salvation Army locations in various sections of the West Coast area. The Sacramento Bee of that year carried a description of the Army's Christmas activities and mentioned the contributions to street corner kettles. Shortly afterward, two young Salvation Army officers who had been instrumental in the original use of the kettle were transferred to the East. They took with them the idea of the Christmas kettle.
In 1897, one of those officers prepared his Christmas plans for Boston around the kettle, but his fellow officers refused to cooperate for fear of "making spectacles of themselves." So he, his wife, and his sister set up three kettles in the heart of the city. That year the kettle effort in Boston and nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.
In 1898, the New York World hailed The Salvation Army kettles as "the newest and most novel device for collecting money." The newspaper also observed, "There is a man in charge to see that contributions are not stolen."
In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth 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 idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but all across the world. Kettles are now used in such distant lands as 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.