In 1891, a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco wanted to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor. From his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, the captain remembered a large pot, displayed on the Stage Landing, called “Simpson’s Pot” where passersby would toss charitable donations.
Other pots followed, drawing the attention and donations of people going to and from the ferryboats. From there the tradition of The Salvation Army kettle spread across the country and eventually around the world.
By Christmas 1895, thirty Salvation Army Corps throughout the West Coast area were using the kettle. Two young Salvation Army officers who helped with those kettles were sent to the east coast, where they got the kettle campaign going in Boston. Those kettles paid for 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.
In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first giant sit down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Today, families are given grocery checks so that they can buy and prepare their own dinners at home. The homeless poor are still invited to share holiday dinners and festivities at hundreds of Salvation Army centers.
Kettles now are used around the world, including Korea, Japan, Chile, and Europe. Today’s kettles may not look the same as that first red cauldron in San Francisco, but what goes in them still accomplishes the same goal: bringing the spirit of Christmas not only to the poor, the hungry, the elderly and the imprisoned, but also to each of us who loves the sound of the Salvation Army bell and everything for which it stands.