//Red Cross revisits its 140 years as a relief organization

Red Cross revisits its 140 years as a relief organization

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Georgians contribute to rich history of helping others 

(ATLANTA – MAY 21, 2021) – Be it a devastating fire; severe weather – like the EF-4 tornado and storms that ripped through West Georgia recently, leaving over 350 homes destroyed and hundreds of families displaced; the constant demand for blood;  the importance of lifesaving training, or the emergency communication needs of military families, the American Red Cross is always there, bringing help and hope to people in the darkest of times. This month the relief organization celebrates its 140th year of service across the U.S. 

First founded on May 21, 1881, by Clara Barton in Washington D.C., the organization – under the direction of Barton – laid the groundwork to transform itself to one of the leading relief organizations in the world, where people continue to come together in innovative ways to assist communities in need. 

Here in Georgia, the Red Cross was first established in Atlanta and Macon in the spring of 1914. Chapter charters were signed by President Woodrow Wilson and paved the way for a rapidly growing Red Cross mission across the “Peach State.”

“We are thrilled to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the American Red Cross in Georgia,” said Kay Wilkins, interim regional executive for the state. “Georgians have contributed greatly to the work of the Red Cross in delivering help and hope to so many people throughout our organization’s rich history. With the continued support of local communities, we look forward to delivering that mission here for many more years to come.”


For more information, see “Closer Look” below this press release or visit:

DISASTER CYCLE SERVICES Over the course of its 140-year history, Red Cross workers have responded to 3 million disasters in the U.S., providing millions of people with comfort, essentials like food and shelter, and support to rebuild their lives after crises of all kinds. Last year alone, the American Red Cross of Georgia aided 14,139 people following 2,708 local disasters. 

Following its establishment in the state of Georgia, the American Red Cross responded to its first large disaster in 1918 – the Great Atlanta Fire. Since then, the Red Cross has continued to strengthen its volunteer-powered response efforts with technological advancements — from broadcasting critical information by radio in 1931, to launching a fleet of custom emergency response vehicles in 1984. 

From the beginning, the Red Cross has relied on its ability to move quickly and bring help to those affected by disasters and other emergencies effectively. That ability has evolved greatly over time, as the attached photo demonstrates of an ambulance driver and horseback rider waiting outside the office of the American Red Cross at Camp Tomas, Georgia, during the Spanish-American War (1898). Today, instead of horse drawn-carts, the organization can count on its fleet of vehicles, including a new next-generation Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) added to the Georgia Red Cross lineup in 2020.

“The addition of the next-generation ERV gives us the capacity to deliver larger quantities of food and supplies in disaster-stricken communities and help our clients start the recovery process more quickly,” said Danella Hughes, Disaster Officer for Georgia’s Red Cross. “ERVs allows us to get closer to affected people, in their neighborhoods, instead of them traveling to us at a set Red Cross location for food or supplies.”

The new high-tech Red Cross truck, used during recent recovery efforts in Newnan following the devastating tornado there helped deliver water, meals and supplies in hard-hit areas. It can carry 400-500 meals per trip, up from the 100-200 meal capacity of previous ERVs.  

Advancements in technology and innovation have allowed the Red Cross to address people’s emerging needs as disasters become more frequent and intense. In 2011, the Red Cross introduced its first mobile apps to help people find emergency shelters instantly. 

BIOMEDICAL SERVICES Each year, the American Red Cross collects over 4.5 million blood donations. In 2020, the American Red Cross of Georgia collected over 111,000 blood and plasma donations from its generous donors and helped supply lifesaving blood products to 85 hospitals across the state and many more across the country. 

Locally, the organization opened the first blood and plasma bank in the South in 1942 to help support the U.S. military during WWII and then helped launch a community blood program shortly thereafter. Since the 1970’s, the Red Cross has helped U.S. health authorities, the blood industry and the public better understand infectious diseases that could be transmitted through blood. Most recently, it implemented COVID-19 antibody testing on all blood donations

TRAINING SERVICES For more than 100 years, Red Cross instructors have empowered ordinary individuals with extraordinary skills that save lives — starting in 1909 with its First Aid Training Department, and in 1914 with Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow’s national Red Cross Water Safety program and Lifesaving Corps. 

Today more than 4.5 million people a year receive Red Cross training in first aid, water safety, nurse assistant training and testing, along with other lifesaving skills. In 2020, Georgia’s Red Cross trained nearly 37,000 people to respond to life-threatening emergencies. Georgians were also among the 500 people nationwide who received National Lifesaving Awards for their heroic efforts that helped save 236 lives. And about 2 million people each year download the free Red Cross mobile apps for First Aid, Pet First Aid and Swim Safety. 

SERVICE TO THE ARMED FORCES The American Red Cross first provided support to U.S. troops in a military engagement before the Spanish-American War – while in Georgia, the local chapter first provided aid to WWI soldiers after establishing itself at Ft. McPherson in 1918.

Today, the Red Cross provides services on all military installations in the U.S. and on 36 installations overseas. Each year, the Red Cross provides more than 513,000 services to military members, veterans, their families, and caregivers, delivering emergency messages, leading mental wellness courses, distributing comfort kits and providing deployment services. Last year, Georgia Red Cross volunteers provided casework services for 28,445 military families across the state.  

INTERNATIONAL SERVICES As part of the world’s largest humanitarian network, the American Red Cross is one of 192 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across the globe that respond to disasters, help families search for loved ones missing as a result of war, natural disaster or civil unrest, and work to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in communities around the world.

On average, the American Red Cross helps more than 200 million people outside the U.S. each year through disaster management and disease prevention activities. Through the Restoring Family Links program, American Red Cross caseworkers help relocate, on average, more than 7,000 families 


Climate change is a humanitarian crisis. Every day, the American Red Cross sees the heartbreak of families and communities trying to cope with more intense storms, heavier rainfall, higher temperatures, stronger hurricanes, and more devastating wildfires. And for the vulnerable communities who are disproportionately impacted by the increased and virtually chronic frequency of these events, help cannot come soon enough.  

We’re focused on growing our response capacity and delivering our services more sustainably — so we can continue to be there for future generations, just as we have for the past 140 years.


The Red Cross mission is made possible by the generosity of donors and volunteers, who comprise more than 90% of our workforce. Visit redcross.org/RedCross140 to get involved by making a financial donation, volunteering, giving blood or taking a class to learn lifesaving skills.

 About the American Red Cross: The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.