Red Kettles in Hampton Roads

The bell-ringing season starts each November and runs through Christmas Eve when the red kettles are packed away for the season. Volunteers are the difference between an empty kettle and one that raises about $30 per hour – enough to provide a family with two bags of groceries or shelter an individual for a night.

In 2022, The Salvation Army Hampton Roads Area Command will dispatch kettles on the first Friday in November. Volunteers interested in ringing a bell, setting up a special group, or competitions can sign-up by visiting or contact Major Donald Dohmann.

The History of Red Kettles

In December of 1891, a Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor. But how would he pay for the food?

As he went about his daily tasks, the question stayed in his mind. Suddenly, his thoughts returned to his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England. On the Stage Landing, he saw a large pot called “Simpson’s Pot” into which charitable donations were thrown by passers-by.

On the next morning, he secured permission from the authorities to place a similar pot at the Oakland ferry landing at the foot of Market Street. No time was lost in securing the pot and placing it in a conspicuous position so that it could be seen by all those going to and from the ferry boats. In addition, a brass urn was placed on a stand in the waiting room for the same purpose.

Thus, Captain Joseph McFee launched a tradition that has spread throughout the United States and the world.

Evolution of Christmas Kettles

By Christmas 1895, the kettle was used by 30 Salvation Army Corps in various locations on the West Coast. That year, The Sacramento Bee carried a description of the Army’s Christmas activities and mentioned the contributions to street corner kettles. Shortly afterward, two young Salvation Army officers who had been instrumental in the original use of the kettle, William A. McIntyre and N. J. Lewis, were transferred to the East and took the idea of the Christmas kettle with them.

In 1897, McIntyre prepared his Christmas plans for Boston around the kettle, but his fellow officers refused to cooperate for fear of “making spectacles of themselves.” McIntyre took matters into his own hands and, along with his wife and his sister, set up three kettles at the Washington Street thoroughfare 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.” The Newspaper also observed, “There is a man in charge to see that contributions are not stolen.”

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, the homeless and poor are still invited to share holiday dinners and festivities at hundreds of Salvation Army centers; however, families are given grocery checks to buy and prepare their dinners at home.

A Modern-Day Tradition

Kettles are now used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, Chile, and many European countries. Everywhere, public contributions to the kettles enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas to those who would otherwise be forgotten – to homebound seniors, the ill, inmates of jails and other institutions, and those stricken with poverty.

Annually, The Salvation Army in the United States aids more than 6,000,000 people at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kettles have also changed since the first utilitarian cauldron was set up in San Francisco. Some new kettles have such devices as a self-ringing bell and even the ability to donate via credit card. These technological advances allow The Salvation Army to keep its brand fresh and relevant to a new generation of donors and volunteers and continue “Doing the Most Good” in their communities.