The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was created on October 29, 1863 in Geneva:

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was created on October 29, 1863 in Geneva:

Red Cross

Swiss-born businessman Henry Dunant needed water rights for a business venture in French-controlled Algeria. The person who could get him those rights was Napoleon III, so Dunant decided to appeal directly to the French emperor. Napoléon III was with his army in Lombardy at the time fighting on the side of Piedmont-Sardinia in the Second Italian War of Independence. Dunant set out for Napoleon’s headquarters at the small city of Solferino in Northern Italy.

Dunant arrived in Solferino on the evening of June 24, 1859, on the same day a battle between the two sides had occurred nearby. Nearly 30,000 were killed or wounded in the Battle of Solferino and many of them lay wounded, dying and dead on the battlefield. Shocked, the Christian-influenced businessman himself took the initiative to organize a group of volunteers to help them.

Henry Dunant at Solferino

In 1862 Dunant published a bookMemory of Solferino, in which he suggested an international association of volunteers be raised to help care for the wounded and imprisoned in wartime.

Arising from Dunant’s suggestion, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was created on October 29, 1863 in Geneva. Its job, under international law, was to protect the life and dignity of the victims of war.

A year later, the Swiss government invited the governments of all European countries, as well as a few others to attend an official diplomatic conference. Sixteen countries sent a total of twenty-six delegates to Geneva.

The Red Cross movement led by Henry Dunant officially began when twelve nations signed the First Geneva Convention, establishing the International Committee of the Red Cross on August 22, 1864.

Original document of the First Geneva Convention, 1864

Within three years, the Geneva Convention had been ratified by all the major European powers. Today’s international Red Cross movement is the result of that 1864 conference.

Thanks to his bold venture, Dunant became the first person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

The American Red Cross was established in 1881 by Clara Barton, an American humanitarian and nurse, who became involved with the International Red Cross while visiting Europe.

Early in 1918, Ernest Hemingway responded to a Red Cross World War One recruitment effort in Kansas City and signed on to become an ambulance driver in Italy.

Ernest Hemingway in uniform as a Red Cross ambulance driver

The ARC supplies nearly half of the donated blood in the US.


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