The Red Kettle Bell Ringers

Through the years, it has become a true Christmas icon–the candy apple-red kettle and the sound of a bell ringing outside of stores throughout cities nationwide. To many, it’s not Christmas without experiencing this familiar sight. But did you know that the red kettle has a long, rich history?

The kettle’s career as a fundraiser began in 1891 when Captain Joseph McFee resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the poor of San Francisco. When the question of how to pay for the food arose, a memory flashed before the Captain’s eyes: Once a sailor in Liverpool, England, the Captain remembered a large pot displayed on the Stage Landing, called “Simpson’s Pot.” Passersby tossed charitable donations into the pot. The Captain received permission from city authorities to place a crab pot and tripod at the Oakland ferry landing at the foot of San Francisco’s Market Place. The kettle–and McFee’s request to “Keep the Pot Boiling!”–drew a lot of attention from ferry passengers. So began a tradition that spread throughout the United States, then the world.
By 1895, 30 Salvation Army Corps on the West Coast used the kettle. Two young Salvation Army officers, William A. McIntyre and N.J. Lewis, took the idea with them to the East Coast. In 1897, McIntyre based his Christmas plans for Boston around the kettle. Other Army officers did not want to participate for fear of “making spectacles of themselves.” So McIntyre, his wife, and sister set up three kettles in the heart of the city. That year, the kettle effort in Boston and other locations nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.

In 1898, The New York World hailed The Salvation Army kettles as “the newest and most novel device for collecting money.” In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Today, families are often given grocery checks or food baskets so they can prepare dinners at home. The homeless and poor are still invited to share holiday dinners and festivities at hundreds of Salvation Army centers.

Since 1997, The Salvation Army National Kettle Kick Off has taken place during the half-time show of the Dallas Cowboys, Thanksgiving Day game. Over the last 14 years, the nationally televised halftime performance has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition for fans in attendance and viewers at home. The Red Kettle campaign has raised more than $1.3 billion since the partnership began in 1997 and has helped The Salvation Army to serve 30 million people each year nationwide. Previous celebrity halftime performers include Keith Urban, Daughtry, Jonas Brothers, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Sheryl Crow, Destiny's Child, Toby Keith, LeAnn Rimes, Creed, Jessica Simpson, Billy Gillman, Clint Black, Randy Travis and Reba McEntire.
"The partnership between The Salvation Army and the Dallas Cowboys is one that comes from the heart of the Jones family as part of their commitment to help those in need during Christmas and year-round," says Major George Hood, national community relations and development secretary for The Salvation Army. "Every year the opportunity for Salvation Army beneficiaries grows thanks to this great relationship allowing the Army to provide food, utility assistance, adult rehabilitation from alcohol and drug addiction, disaster relief and other services to nearly 30 million individuals in more than 5,000 communities nationwide every year."
Captain McFee’s kettle idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but all around the world: Kettles are now used in countries including Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries. They may have changed a great deal since that first crab pot in San Francisco, but now more than ever the message–“Doing the Most Good”–still supports this resilient program. You’ll see our red kettles and bell ringers stationed outside your favorite retailers and local business Monday-Saturday from mid-November until Christmas Eve. 

The Salvation Army kettle campaign is even more crucial this year, when charitable income is down while even more individuals and families are seeking Salvation Army assistance. So please don’t forget to give to The Salvation Army red kettles you see this season. 

For more information about the Red Kettle Campaign or volunteer opportunities, please visit our local Salvation Army center at 633 N. Broadway Avenue, Tyler, TX 75702 or call (903) 592-4361. You can also find The Salvation Army of Texas online at,, and

And as always, secure donations can be made online at or by calling     1-800-SAL-ARMY.