Our History



The idea of a humanitarian organization started with a Swiss businessman named Jean Henri Dunant. On the evening of June 24, 1859, he witnessed the aftermath of war when 23,000 were left on a battlefield dead, dying or wounded without care or attention.  He mobilized the local community in the small town of Solferino, Italy to provide needed care using the motto of their own province: “Tutti Fratelli” meaning, all are brothers.

1863: Henri Dunant wrote a book about his experience in Italy and later founded The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) . He found four other prominent community leaders in Geneva, Switzerland to help him turn his idea into a movement.

1881: Inspired by the Red Cross movement, famous Civil War nurse Clara Barton, establishes the American Association of the Red Cross in Washington D.C.

1900: The American Red Cross is chartered by the Federal Government to prevent and alleviate human suffering, and provide services to armed forces. Still, The American Red Cross is not a federal agency nor is it funded by the government; it operates on donor dollars with the support of volunteers.



1913: The Superstorm of 1913 severely affected 14 states with tornadoes, rain, snow, flooding and fires. Ohio was hit hardest where water rose 22 feet above the flood stage. Death toll reached almost 500 statewide. The National Red Cross deployed volunteers to provide food, clothing and shelter to the most widespread natural disaster our country has ever experienced up to that time.

 1916: The Greater Columbus Chapter of the American Red Cross was chartered on July 3.  George W. Lattimer was the first chairperson of the Board of Directors.

1918: The Hostess and Hospital Service and Recreation Corps – more commonly referred to as the Gray Lady Corps – was established with volunteers who could bring non-medical care to servicemen. Not until 1947 was the name officially changed to Gray Lady Service.



1921: President Warren G. Harding welcomes delegates to the 1st Red Cross National Convention at the Ohio State Expositions Center.

1931: The Red Cross celebrated its 50th Anniversary by releasing a commemorative stamp.

1936: Well known child actress, Shirley Temple, does a commercial to gain support for the Red Cross relief efforts.

1937: Greater Columbus Chapter of the Red Cross provided food and shelter for 1,300 persons made homeless after weeks of rain caused 12,000 sq. miles of flooding in the Ohio River Valley.

1941: Dr. Charles Drew – medical pioneer of Plasma separation and storage – became known as the Father of the Blood Bank. Behind his revolutionary research, he initiated the Red Cross’ program for blood banking and became its first director.

1942: Tuskegee Airmen Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and Major Vance H. Marchbanks meet with Mrs. James A. Madison to discuss the Gray Lady Program at the historic Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Oh.

1948: The first nationwide blood center for civilians was established in New York. By December, the Central Ohio chapter joined the largest peacetime health project by resuming blood collection. Today, the Red Cross supplies over 40% of the Nation’s blood. Central Ohio has become the largest blood processing center in the country, manufacturing 1 million blood products annually and serving 41 hospitals.


1954: As the Polio epidemic in the U.S. peaked, local nurses and volunteers helped fight the disease and distribute the vaccine, discovered by Jonas Salk.

1959: This disaster revealed the Red Cross to be the most effective relief organization of its time; the Central Ohio chapter organized 500 volunteers to shelter 2,000 families in 35 facilities.

news.google.com/newspapers (St. Petersburg Times December 2, 1967 pg. 6)

1960: The Voices From Home program initiated during the Cold War era to communicate recorded family messages for military personnel.


1974: Within one year, the Central Ohio chapter of the Red Cross raises $92,312 for Tornado disaster relief in Xenia, OH.

1980: Volunteers coordinate the world’s longest First Aid station for the Columbus – Portsmouth bicycle tour. Today, chapter volunteers continually provide first aid at public events like concerts, festivals and sporting events.


1982: The first Ohio State University vs University of Michigan Blood Battle began. Fans of the two schools have battled to take top honors for most blood donations. The Blood Battle has grown into one of the largest blood competitions in the country, with more than 2,500 donations given on each campus alone.


1986: Central Ohio chapter joined the national battle to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic by introducing education and prevention classes.

1989: The fundamental principles of the Red Cross are Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality. The American Red Cross Cultural Diversity Outreach Award is presented to the Central Ohio chapter.

1992: During the Gulf War, nearly 63,000 people turned to the Red Cross for emergency messaging. The Central Ohio chapter expanded its efforts with the Holocaust Tracing Center for families to find those lost during the war. During the nineties, more than 900 reunions were celebrated.

1995: The Central Ohio chapter certified 39,824 area residents in Health & Safety courses including First Aid, CPR, Lifeguarding, Child Care and HIV/AIDS Education.



2000: For the second time in Red Cross history, the Central Ohio chapter hosted the National Convention.


2001: After the tragedy of September 11 in New York, local mental health workers were deployed to serve as grief counselors for the victims and first responders in the aftermath of the disaster.

2006: The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies officially admitted the Magen David Adom (MDA) and the Palestine Red Crescent Society to the Red Cross Movement.

2009: When the H1N1 pandemic – otherwise known as Swine Flu – emerged, volunteers mobilized around the globe to help their communities prevent, prepare and respond to the growing threat.

2010: After the catastrophic earthquake that affected more than 3 million in Haiti, the Central Ohio chapter raised $156,000 in relief funds, designated to help the country’s relief efforts.

2012: The Red Cross responded to an alarming 113 large-scale disasters in 42 states and territories from Alaska to Florida; from Tropical Storm Debbie to Hurricane Sandy, 95 tornadoes touching down throughout 16 states, windstorms, flooding and wildfires, the Red Cross helped hundreds of thousands of people around the country.




Since 2005 the Columbus Blue Jackets have been a major supporter of the American Red Cross. Each year the team sponsors the entire month of September and hosts a blood drive for our lifesaving blood program.

Our local Red Cross partnered with AmeriCorps in 2005. Members give a year of service to help fulfill the Red Cross Mission, while earning an education award.

In 2006, Disney became a national sponsor of the Pillowcase Project – a preparedness education program started by the Red Cross following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Red Cross Volunteers of Central Ohio for children in grades 3 – 5, which teaches students about personal and family preparedness, local hazards, and basic coping skills.

In 2009, our local Red Cross teamed up with Miss Ohio, Erica Gelhaus, to host a blood drive at COSI.

For the last several years, our “Turn White Castle Red’ campaign has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each February through our White Castle partnership to help families and individuals during times of crisis.

In 2010, Nationwide Insurance Foundation, donated it’s 4th blood bus to our local Red Cross. It served a vital role in the growth of blood donations in Central Ohio. The bus allowed the Red Cross to collect more than 9,300 life-saving blood donations each year.

In 2014, Central Ohio Red Cross joined this two-year campaign to engage 500,000 residents in preparing for the kinds of emergencies faced here. Our goal is to create more resilient communities that are better equipped to help each other prevent, prepare for and respond to life-threatening emergencies.

During late summer 2014, the American Red Cross responded to a large 60+ unit apartment fire in Columbus, Ohio. For a week, the Red Cross operated an emergency shelter for residents displaced.

Since 2014, the Central Ohio Red Cross has been honoring our local heroes for their acts of selflessness and bravery at our annual Heroes Gala.

Local Red Cross volunteers deploy to Flint Michigan in January of 2016 to aid in the water crisis which created a public health disaster for its residents.


What happens when we learn the depth of tragedy and witness suffering? We’re forever changed. The Red Cross of Central Ohio has been there to respond to these tragedies and help alleviate the suffering for 100 years. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.


Every 8 minutes a disaster is happening and the Red Cross is responding. Though our technology has changed and our volunteer resources have grown, our mission has remained the same: prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing volunteers and the generosity of donors.