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Our History Image

Our History

Our History

The Salvation Army began in 1865 when William Booth, a London minister, abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit, instead of taking his message to the people where it would reach the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the destitute.

William Booth held a series of evangelistic meetings in the East End of London. He set up a tent in a Quaker graveyard, and his services became an instant success. His renown as a religious leader spread throughout London, and he attracted followers who were dedicated to fighting for the souls of men and women.

Thieves, prostitutes and, gamblers were among Booth's first converts to Christianity. To congregations who were desperately poor, he preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead people to Christ and link them to a church for further spiritual guidance but soon realized that the poor were not welcome in the pews of most churches and chapels of Victorian England. Regular churchgoers were appalled when these shabbily dressed, unwashed people came to join them in worship.

Booth decided to found a church especially for them - the East London Christian Mission. The mission grew slowly, so William and his wife Catherine expanded their services within the community. They advocated that their mission should be "Soup, Soap, and Salvation," then took their mission directly to the streets, helping to feed the hungry, rehabilitate alcoholics and fight teenage prostitution - all while offering spiritual guidance.

In 1878, after reading a printer's proof of The Salvation Army's Annual Report, William Booth noticed the statement, "The Christian Mission is a volunteer army." Booth crossed out the words "Volunteer Army" and wrote in "Salvation Army." From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The Salvation Army.

From that point, William Booth became the General and converts became soldiers of Christ and were known then, as now, as Salvationists. They preached throughout the British Isles, in some cases facing real battles as organized gangs mocked and attacked them. In spite of violence and persecution, some 250,000 people were converted under the ministry of The Salvation Army between 1881 and 1885.

The Salvation Army movement expanded rapidly to the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, India, South Africa, Iceland, and local neighborhood units. Today, The Salvation Army is active in virtually every corner of the world and has evolved over the decades into a social service provider with an unmatched scope and breadth with a mission to meet human needs without discrimination.

Southern California

For more than 130 years, The Salvation Army has been feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and changing the lives of countless men, women, and children in Southern California. The Salvation Army's presence in Southern California dates back to 1887 when an open-air street meeting was held on the corner of Temple and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. To this day, a plaque remains in the sidewalk to commemorate the event.

Prior to this meeting, a church, or Corps as it is known in The Salvation Army, had been established in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles Street. In 1892, the Corps moved to First Street where The Salvation Army occupied almost the entire block with a hotel for transient men and a men's industrial complex, the forerunner of today's Adult Rehabilitation Centers. In 1899, The Salvation Army opened a rescue home for young, expectant mothers in Los Angeles known as Booth Memorial Center.

The Army's work expanded quickly in Los Angeles with the opening of other Corps and facilities for social welfare programs. One example is The Salvation Army Los Angeles Day Care Center, which opened in 1920 for mothers working to assist the war effort. Even today, L.A. Day Care serves approximately 250 children of parents employed in the downtown Los Angeles garment and produce districts. Other programs in the city assist families living with HIV/AIDS, men and women working to overcome addictions, disabled veterans, evacuees from disasters, senior citizens trying to live on a fixed income, and children who need a safe place to go after school.

Another notable date in the history of the California South Division is January 1, 1920, when the Los Angeles Band marched in the Tournament of Roses parade for the very first time. This tradition commenced due to the efforts of Mr. Harry Chandler, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and member of The Salvation Army's Advisory Board.

The California South Division continues to celebrate its long and fruitful presence all over the Southland, by serving those most in need, and by hosting special events that share The Salvation Army’s rich history with the local community.

Historical Milestones

  • The Salvation Army fanned out across the world establishing new community centers, performing social service work and providing disaster relief.
  • The first Salvation Army band was formed in 1882 by accident. Charles Frye and his sons offered their services as bodyguards for Salvation Army street preachers. They began playing music on their brass instruments to give them something to do while they protected the officers, and soon after quit their family business to lead the Army's music department.
  • The red Christmas kettle debuted in San Francisco in 1891 in the guise of a crab pot. A depression had thrown many out of work, including hundreds of seamen and longshoremen. The campaign proved so successful that by 1900 it was imitated nationwide.
  • In 1906, in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake, The Salvation Army set up tent cities to serve as cooks for victims of the disaster. This operation cost $4 million, The Army's entire available resources for that year.
  • During World War I, American Salvationists ministered to home-sick troops in Europe. The young women officers, who came to be known as "Doughnut Girls," caught the attention of the troops and the American public.
  • During the Great Depression, The Salvation Army increased social service work by 700 percent. Soup kitchens fed the homeless and homes for unwed mothers remained open thorough the generosity of gifts from local farmers and merchants.
  • In 1941, The Salvation Army led the charge for the creation of the U.S.O. (United Service Organizations), a cooperative venture among several social service and religious organizations. Red Shield Clubs offered showers, meals and emergency sleeping accommodations to servicemen with the hospitality of a "home away from home."
  • In 1963, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother declared rebuilt of The Salvation Army International Headquarters following extensive reconstruction
  • In 2000, The Salvation Army joined the largest ever collaboration between NGOs, government agencies and civil societies to combat worldwide poverty through the United Nations’ Millennium Development goals.
  • Today, The Salvation Army is present in 124 countries and continues to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those in need. In the United States alone, The Salvation Army helps more than 34 million people through programs and services that address poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, hunger, drug addition, gangs, and illiteracy. For more history on The Salvation Army, check out our interactive timeline highlighting key events at http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/history.