The Salvation Army is such a part of Americana that many in the United States would be surprised to learn that it began in England with a former pawnbroker who later became an evangelical Protestant minister. In fact, it may have been his experiences as a pawnbroker which led William Booth to perceive the need to convert poor Londoners– among whom were gamblers, alcoholics, and prostitutes–to the belief in the power of Christian faith. Knowing that some of those who needed Jesus Christ the most would not enter a church, nor be welcomed by some members of a traditional church’s congregation, the Reverend Booth and his wife Catherine took the gospel of the Lord to the streets of the east side of London in 1865. It was there that “The Christian Mission” gained 1,000 volunteers and evangelists in a decade. These converts sang and preached in the streets, giving testimony to the power of God’s word to the vulnerable, the poor, and the destitute.
Not long after the street revivals became successful in converting people, Reverend Booth read over a proof prepared to go the printer for the annual report of the 1878 “Christian Mission.” In this report there was a statement about the Mission’s being a “volunteer army.” Reverend Booth crossed out these words and wrote in “Salvation Army,” thus giving the foundation the name it has today. Volunteers became known as “Salvationists,” and they went forward on a dedicated crusade. This religious army converted 250,000 Christians between 1881 and 1885. After these years of crusading, the message of the Salvation Army spread to America and Canada. Then it went across Europe to France, Germany, and Iceland. From there the Salvation Army’s Christian words of hope were received in India, South Africa, and Australia.
Much of the Salvation Army’s success in recruiting new souls to Christianity comes from its recognition that the poor and spiritually destitute need more than just religion. Reverend Booth once said, “Nobody ever got saved while they [sic] had a toothache.” So, the Salvation Army provided meals, clothing, and other forms of assistance to people. In 1891 a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco began the first kettle fundraising drive to support the meal programs, a drive that continues throughout America. Today in America there are approximately 8,000 Salvation Army locations with millions of volunteers. This renowned charity also has ongoing programs in more than 100 countries.