History of the Salvation Army

Michele Meleen
Salvation Army donation box in Newburyport

Knowing the history of the Salvation Army is to know the background on one of America's most active and influential charities. There is a lot to learn about the Salvation Army and its beginnings.

The Early History of the Salvation Army

The Salvation Army actually isn't an American charity at all, as it was founded in 1865 by William Booth, an English minister. He left the pulpit in London to become a minister to those he felt needed to hear words of love and salvation most - the homeless and hungry.

Origins of the Organization Name

Since it was intended to be a church for the people, the initial name of the group was The Christian Mission. Thirteen years after its start, the group was renamed The Salvation Army. After reading an annual report for the group, Booth saw the phrase "volunteer army" and disliked it so he replaced it with "Salvation Army."

Initial Programs

In the beginning, programs focused on providing food, like soup kitchens, and lodging for those in need. Booth and his wife took the word of Christ to the streets and preached to those who would listen. Eventually many of these listeners converted to Christianity and helped spread the word through the streets too as volunteers.

Gaining Followers

According to the Salvation Army's website, The Christian Mission consisted of ten full-time workers in 1865. Ten years later, there were more than 1,000 volunteers working for the group. From 1881 to 1885, The Salvation Army converted a quarter of a million people.

The First U.S. Branch

Original Christian Mission member Eliza Shirley had left England to join her family in the U.S. She held the first American Salvation Army meeting in Philadelphia in 1947. After her grassroots effort to support the group's mission in the U.S. proved successful, Booth sent an official group from the parent organization to the U.S. in 1880.

Making History

Many services and sub-ministries have come out of this Christian non-profit group, including, but not limited to, the first food bank, first nursery for disadvantaged families, and the first missionary hospital. Their military services also led to the start of the USO. Today, you can find the Salvation Army in over 106 countries worldwide, and new programs are continually forming with prayer and compassion.

A World Tour

As the work of the Salvation Army picked up steam, their work spread rapidly around the world. As you can see, the organization strategically began work in specific areas after major periods of distress.

  • Early 1880s - Salvationists begin campaigns in Ireland, Australia, North America, France, India, Switzerland, and Sweden.
  • Late 1880s - Campaigns begin in Italy, Denmark, Netherlands, Newfoundland, Germany, Belgium, Finland, and Jamaica.
  • 1890s - Salvationists start work in Hawaii, Java, British Guiana, Iceland, Japan, and Gibraltar.
  • 1897 - The first international social council is held
  • Early 1900s - Work spreads to South America, the Caribbean Islands, and Russia.
  • 1920s - African countries receive Salvationists.
  • 1970s - Campaigns begin in Taiwan and Puerto Rico.
  • 1990s - Work spreads to Rwanda, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic.

Program Development

The Salvation Army's programs center on equal treatment for all, especially the disadvantaged. Staple programs include help for children, women, and the poor.

  • 1885 - Fight against teenage prostitution; Family Tracing Service started to locate lost relatives and restore family relationships
  • 1905 - International Staff College opens to train workers on effective leadership
  • 1907 - Start of the Anti-Suicide Bureau
  • 1913 - Start of the Boys' Legion
  • 1915 - Girls' group, Life Saving Guards, begins
  • 1943 - Start of the Salvation Army Medical Fellowship and Nurses Fellowship
  • 1950 - First international youth congress held
  • 2004 - ALOVE Program started to recruit more youth and young adults

Major Accomplishments

The Salvation Army is credited with many accomplishments and developments in the areas of health and human services.

  • 1868 - First publication started (East London Evangelist, later called The Salvationist)
  • 1883 - First prison-gate home opened in Australia to help ex-prisoners find a new life upon leaving prison
  • 1888 - First food depot opened in London
  • 1897 - First Salvation Army hospital opened in India; first film production company in Australia opened, called The Limelight Department
  • 1907 - Establishment of Anti-Suicide Bureau
  • 1927 - Hosted first International Young People's Staff Council
  • 1950- First television broadcast by an SA General
  • 1980 - The Salvation Army Act 1980 received royal assent

An Army of Volunteers

Since its inception, The Salvation Army has held true to its motto of "doing the most good" for those most in need. Armed with a Christian mission and loyal volunteers looking to help others, this organization is thriving 150 years later.

History of the Salvation Army