In December of 1891, a Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area's poor. To pay for the food, he borrowed a technique he had seen when he was a sailor in England-he placed large collection pots in conspicuous areas near the ferry landing so that passersby would drop in donations. In so doing, Captain Joseph McFee launched a philanthropic tradition that gained national popularity.
By 1897, the kettle effort had spread from the west to the east coast and resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy. In 1898, New Yorkers hailed Salvation Army kettles as "the newest and most novel device for collecting money." One newspaper also observed, "There is a man in charge to see that contributions are not stolen."
Today, the homeless and poor are still invited to share holiday dinners and festivities at hundreds of Salvation Army centers. Captain McFee's initial charitable endeavor has evolved into one of the most recognizable traditions of the holiday season--the Red Kettle Campaign--which is The Salvation Army's largest fundraising effort. But kettles have changed since that first utilitarian cauldron was set up in San Francisco. Some new kettles have such devices as a self-ringing bell and even the capacity to accept credit card donations. Kettles are now used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, and Chile, and in many European countries.
Public contributions to the kettles enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas to people who would otherwise be forgotten-the aged and lonely, the ill, the poor, and inmates of jails and other institutions. Annually, The Salvation Army in the United States aids more than 6 million people at Thanksgiving and Christmas.